Archive for the ‘ Guerilla Historian ’ Category

Welcome to Cellblock 3: The Ghosts Here Are Probably Coughing

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Frequent visitors to Eastern State Penitentiary (ESP) in Philadelphia are familiar with the red cross on the gate— it’s the cellblock that visitors have been trying to sneak into for 20 years!   Cellblock 3, known as the hospital wing, has long held the public’s curiosity.  Abandoned for many years after the prison closed in 1971, it’s now open to the public for guided tours.   Visitors have long wished to explore this space, but its severe deterioration has made touring the hospital block almost impossible – until now.

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Opportunities to step past that head gate with the iconic cross have been few and far between. In the past, ESP has offered rare glimpses of the space with sporadic hard-hat tours, but the area was never stable enough to allow the normal foot-traffic of daily visitors.  To allow the public to view Cellblock 3, staff and volunteers had to stabilize the crumbling cellblock, remove debris, and create an informational experience for tourists.  The effort cost nearly $200,000 to complete.  The bulk of the money was raised through private funds and their Halloween fundraiser, Terror Behind the Walls.

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Now visitors can enter the former surgical suite that served thousands of prisoners, including Al Capone who had his tonsils removed there.  During his imprisonment at ESP, Capone had two surgeries. The second was most likely a circumcision–a procedure that was utilized at the time for treating syphilis.

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The rest of the hospital wing’s rooms are visible only from their doorways.  Described as a “monument to misery”, the rooms reflect the myriad of maladies suffered by the prison population and the treatments available to them. The hospital wing treated typhoid, influenza and common colds, among many other ailments. It also treated injuries from accidents and violence that occurred within the prison. Visitors can view the laboratory, X-ray lab, hydrotherapy room and the psychiatric department, along with specially designed cells that were meant to aid in the treatment of certain conditions.

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Known as one of the most haunted places in Pennsylvania, ESP was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Today it stands in ruin–a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers. Some 47 years after it was shuttered and abandoned for its intended use, noise–now from tourists and not from shouting inmates–reverberates. If there truly are ghosts there – a concept promoted each fall in the historic site’s Halloween fundraiser — chances are they are coughing.

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While in operation, tuberculosis was its most prevalent health issue inside the thick prison walls.  Before antibiotics, there was no cure for tuberculosis. The prison was dark, damp, and crowded with coughs and sneezes filling the air. Inmates eventually diagnosed with the contagious disease were moved and quarantined in special cells called “solarium cells” that provided more access to light, ventilation, and fresh air. TB patients also had their own hydrotherapy room, gymnasium, and recreation yard.

Most of the deaths that occurred at Eastern State Penitentiary happened in Cellblock 3.

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Cheri Sundra © 2018
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Death and Taxes (Part 2): The Crumbling Burial Chamber

Once advertised as a “magnificent chapel mausoleum of reinforced concrete, granite and marble built to endure the ages,” this burial chamber is now literally crumbling.

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I wrote about this place back in 2012 , without revealing the location, since I thought it was the most disturbing abandonment I’d ever seen.  Sadly, I’ve since learned that abandoned interment spaces are becoming quite a common occurrence across the United States because of financial difficulties.

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2016

Due to years of neglect, the mausoleum at Good Shepherd Memorial Park on Westminster Road in Plains Township, which has been featured in numerous local news stories since 2015, is in a dangerous state of disrepair. bc5The cemetery was created in 1976 by owners known collectively as Westminster Associates. Then in 1994, Larry Deminski, who incorporated himself with the Department of State as Westminster Memorial Garden, Inc., became the sole owner of the cemetery.

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By 2003, the property was overgrown and neglected, and there was more than $20,000 owed in unpaid taxes on the cemetery. The water and electricity had been shut off.

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Good Shepherd Memorial Park Office

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Nobody was doing any structural maintenance on the mausoleum and burial records couldn’t be found anywhere. Then Deminski died in February 2004. The current owners bought it, sight unseen, at a tax sale for $4,500 in August 2005, per county records.

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According to local news outlets, Lawrence Lee and Viktoria Evstafieva were unaware that the property was a cemetery when they purchased it at a tax sale.  Their attorney, John Comitz told local papers that the property never should have been sold in the first place because cemeteries cannot be taxed or sold at tax sales in Pennsylvania.  In June of 2015, code enforcement officials roped off the outdoor crypt areas with yellow police tape and locked the mausoleum for safety reasons.

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That same year, the troubled Plains Township cemetery was pulled from yet tax another tax sale on September 24th, because the matter was in litigation with Luzerne County and its tax claim bureau.  At the time, records showed $15,477 were owed in back taxes by the current owners since 2010.  They were also sued for damages, both financial and emotional, by a woman who sought restitution for having to remove her father from Good Shepherd’s mausoleum to have him relocated to another cemetery.

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Described as peaceful and beautiful 30 years ago, today the structure is so unstable that people can’t pay respect to their loved ones.  Although it’s been so long since the police tape went up that it’s now gone, locks and chains still hang heavily at the doorway, prohibiting anyone from entering the crumbling final resting place of its inhabitants.

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“Criminal” and “disrespectful” are words used by family members to describe the situation.  “When you make arrangements to Rest in Peace they should be able to rest in peace” is what one distraught family member told a local news station.  “I worry everyday what’s going to happen to that structure where my parents are,” said another. “This is terrible. This is one big nightmare.”

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Some families with loved ones interred there would like to move them, but cost is an issue, as well as the fact that bodies can no longer be removed until the structure has been stabilized.  An inspection was done, and it was determined that it wasn’t safe for people to take remains out until the building is secured. Removing the heavy marble panels and taking the caskets out of the vaults could jeopardize the integrity of the entire structure.

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Other families wanted to take over the mausoleum, hoping to restore it since their deceased loved ones had expressed a desire to be laid to rest in that location, but no visible work can be seen taking place on the structure–just more deterioration as observed by these two pictures taken just four years apart.

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August 2012

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November 2016

Obviously financial obstacles are a barrier to finding any workable solution.  An estimate given to repair the roof came in at around $52,000.  Obviously the township can’t pick up the tab, but it has agreed to waive the fees for the permits that will be required for any work done to the mausoleum. But who is going to take over the property and put up the money needed for repairs?

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“It’s a terrible situation up there,” according to Plains Township Commissioner Chairman Robert Sax . “It’s the strangest, saddest situation I’ve ever dealt with as a commissioner.”

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Cheri Sundra © 2016 All Rights Reserved

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The Haunted Monkey Candle Shoppe

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Cellars are creepy, especially in old houses.  That’s why the employees rarely ventured into the cellar of the 100-year-old The Candle Shoppe Of The Pocono’s— spooky things were happening down there!

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About four years after the business opened in the large house on Route 611 in the Poconos, those working the closing shift say they could hear strange sounds in the cellar after dark, when the store started staying open late on Fridays and Saturdays.  They even refused to walk around the premises alone at night.

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Because the business continued growing, the owner got ready to expand, and everyone could no longer avoid utilizing the basement.  That’s when the employees told the owner that the store was haunted.  She told them they were crazy and brushed off their experiences by saying it must be the furnace making noise or floorboards just squeaking.

As business needs required the use of the basement more and more, old medical equipment and cages were found down there.  The weirdness only intensified.  There were unexplained pounding sounds and candles would fly off the shelves by themselves.  According to some newspaper reports, employees said they heard stampeding sounds and smelled animals, even though the candle shop has an aroma of perfume and wax.  Then the owner started to hear the noises herself and was convinced that something unnatural was happening in her store.

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Finally, a neighbor filled them in about the house’s grisly history—it was used by a scientist to conduct experiments on spider monkeys that were locked in the basement.

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The house was built in 1897.  A doctor employed by Pocono Biological Laboratories, which is known today as Sanofi Pasteur, took up residence in 1901. He was working on a smallpox vaccine and a cure for yellow fever.  Were the people at the candle shop experiencing the restless spirits of medical experiment monkeys?  You can decide for yourself.

Today, The Candle Shoppe of the Pocono’s offers an attraction on the premises based on the history of the house. It’s located in the basement of the shop and has an amusement park-like vibe.  There are fake monkeys and skulls and strobe lights and gore. But another focus is the authentic documentation gathered about the doctor, William Redwood Fisher, who lived in the house with his family. No photography or video is allowed inside the actual attraction (but when you reach the bottom, you’ll see a video currently available on YouTube).

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The Candle Shoppe of the Poconos has been featured on Animal Planet’s The Haunted and investigated by the Pennsylvania Paranormal Association (not just once, but twice). You can visit the Biological Research Testing Facility turned Candle Shoppe at 1900 Route 611 in Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, which is open year-round.

Have a Happy & Safe Halloween!

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Photo Courtesy of Photography by Jennifer O’Malia 

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For Lovers Only–Abandoned Penn Hills Pocono Resort

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH  

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Welcome to JizzneyLand!  Celebrated as the “Paradise of Pocono Pleasure” and “a place of unbridled passion”, the honeymoon resort known as Penn Hills catered to Swinging Young Couples.  With tacky, lust inspired décor like round beds, heart-shaped whirlpool bathtubs, gaudy floor-to-ceiling shag carpeting, and mirrors on the ceiling, the Hotel California had nothing on this place!

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS 

If these walls could talk they’d tell stories of love, infidelity, lust, corruption and Mob connections! As soon as I started posting pictures from this location on social media, I had several women reach out to tell me tales of visiting here with suave Italian “business men”, who owned fancy cars, printing shops, drop ship businesses, video distribution companies, and other undefinable “business interests”.  Of course, no one wanted to be interviewed in detail “on the record”, but Billy D’Elia is the name that came up, in association with these men, several times as the three different women shared their stories with me.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

While this location started as a tavern in 1944, the 500 acre resort grew to include skiing, golf, swimming, archery, ice skating, snowmobiling, tennis, an indoor game room, a massive dining hall, and a night/comedy club.  The property also contained one cool historical feature–modernist streetlights from the 1964 World’s Fair.

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1964 World’s Fair Street Light at Penn Hills

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia 

During its prime in the 1960s and 1970s, Penn Hills was so popular that reservations often had to be made months in advance.  Anyone living in the Tri-State Area during the 1970s will remember the TV commercials with the slogan: “Penn Hills for lovers only.  You’re never lonely at Penn Hills….. Just 90 minutes from New York City!”

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

Located in Analomink, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, the resort began its decline in the late 1980s, along with many of the resorts and hotels in that same region.  Some blame the rising affordability of air travel at that time, coupled with the inexpensive packages available at all-inclusive resorts at destinations in countries like Mexico.  Others say the resorts in the Poconos were built up in anticipation of legalized casino gambling in the state of Pennsylvania, which didn’t materialize as quickly as developers assumed it would.

Wedding Bell Shaped Pool

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Photo Courtesy of  Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

For whatever reason, lovers visiting Penn Hills in the new millennium found the accommodations horrifying during the last few years that it was open.   Consumer reviews from online travel sites definitely articulate how much the resort and its services deteriorated since its hey-days as a honeymoon destination spot.  Consumers described a resort that was deserted and scary.   They depict rooms that smelled moldy, contained outdated furniture, chipped paint and non-operational whirlpool tubs.  Accommodations were full of bugs, stains, and littered with graffiti containing slogans such as “We got screwed at Penn Hills”.  They also claimed that the drinks at the bar were watered down, the food was barely edible and the property was literally falling apart.   Reviews say that the wood on the buildings was rotting, the pool was peeling, the tennis courts had potholes, archery targets were no longer standing upright, and most of the buildings looked abandoned.

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH Kat Penn Hills_DSC5735 copy Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

When Penn Hills co-founder, Frances Paolillo died in 2009 at the age of 102, the resort closed less than two months later. According to multiple internet sources, the workers’ final paychecks were never issued.  The Monroe County Tax Claim Bureau reported that Penn Hills owed about $1.1 million in back taxes and was on a payment plan since 2006 to defray that debt. Portions of the property were sold at tax sale. In June of 2013, the remaining parcel was purchased for $25,000 at a repository sale by Penn Resort Investment, LLC, based in Jim Thorpe.  According to newspaper reports, Stroud Township officials have been trying to get the new owners to secure the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

Since declining into a state of abandonment, the resort, which was already in serious disrepair, has fallen victim to copper thieves, flooding, vandalism, and recent fires.  According to newspaper reports from December 2014, there have been a total of 98 instances requiring a police response at the resort since its closure, because of suspicious circumstances, burglary, and theft.  Stroud Township says if the current owners don’t cooperate, the township could eventually demolish the old resort and put a lien on the property.

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Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rogers

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Photo Courtesy Rich Zoeller aka THAT KID RICH 

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Photo Courtesy of Jennifer O’Malia

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Photo Courtsey of Adrienne Shellenberger aka GRAVE EXPECTATIONS

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Some of My Own Photos From That Location:

The Laugh with Abandonment Comedy Club

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Comedy Club View 2

The Abandoned Gift Shop

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The Abandoned Skating Rink

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Guest Rooms (some don’t seem totally “abandoned”)

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Guest Room 2

Guest Room 3

Abandoned Indoor Pool (no, that’s not ice)

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Abandoned Indoor Poolside Bar

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The Dead Diva of Hollenback Cemetery: The Notorious Florence Foster Jenkins

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If someone was going to play you in a movie about your life,

who would you want it to be?

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Meryl Streep (along with Hugh Grant) recently signed up to appear as one of Wilkes-Barre’s former residents, now eternally residing in the Hollenback Cemetery, Florence Foster Jenkins, who became infamous for her artistic incompetence since she was an Opera Diva who could not sing.  The concept isn’t that hard to grasp today, in the age of talentless nobodies who become amazingly famous–Florence Foster Jenkins is the undisputed Patron Saint of that genre!

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Known, and sometimes ridiculed, for her lack of rhythm, pitch and tone; in addition to her generally poor singing ability, legions of people came to see Florence perform, thanks to her highly eccentric behavior.  It is rumored that she would often order massive bouquets of flowers to be delivered to her concerts, and then genuinely forget that she‘d done so, thinking they were from her throngs of admirers.  She wore ridiculous costumes, in Lady Gaga-esque fashion, that she made herself, often featuring wings and tinsel.  Ms. Jenkins once pulled an “Axl Rose” by hurling a basket at the audience. And after an accident, she rewarded a taxi driver for injuring her because she was convinced that she could “sing” a higher F than ever before (after the incident).  When faced with ridicule and criticism, Ms. Jenkins had the amazing ability to rebrand herself as a victim of “professional jealousy”.

The only way to obtain a ticket to one of Ms. Jenkins’ performances was to purchase one directly from the Diva herself!  She certainly understood the “leave them wanting more” theory since she refused to appear in New York more than once a year, often restricting attendance to her annual recital to a select few loyal admirers.

According to Carnegie Hall, it is Ms. Jenkins who has the honor of being the performer of their most requested archival concert program.

Seeing Ms. Jenkins, who was independently wealthy, perform at small venues like fashionable hotel ballrooms became “the thing to do”.  Everyone wanted to listen to her screw up every song she tried to sing.  Her concert-goers always had such a great time that they convinced her that she needed to make her Carnegie Hall debut, which she did on October 25, 1944.  The performance sold out in just two hours!  And the audience would not let her go home.  And like the Diva she was, she died one month and one day after that performance.  Forever leaving her fans wanting more. IMG_1879 (2) sig

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