Creepy Historical Podcasts for Halloween

Because I love podcasts and I’m sure many of my readers do, too, I’ve compiled a list of some of the creepiest episodes of some of my favorite podcasts, all of which have a basis in history. Just so you know, many of these episodes deal with murder (although none get too graphic if my memory serves correctly) so proceed with caution if you’re sensitive to that or have little ears listening.

Creepy Podcasts for Halloween


If you’re looking for a creepy podcast, you’re looking for Lore. (And now it’s a show on Amazon!) Really, the entire series is perfect listening for the month of October but I have a few favorites…

Mary, Mary

The Big Chill (I swear, I think about this story at least once a week.)

Negative Consequences

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Lizzie Borden and Her Axe

The Bloody Benders

Spring-Heeled Jack: Mystery Assailant!

The Sisters Fox: They Talked to Dead People

Ghosts of History: Winchester Mystery House

HH Holmes and the Mysteries of Murder Castle, parts one and two

The Belle Gunness Episode: Who was the Mistress of Murder Hill?


Pearl Bryan

Poster Boy

One Eyed Joe

You Must Remember This

Charles Manson’s Hollywood
This entire series is phenomenal and I recommend listening to the whole thing but if you only want the creepiest, this episode covers the Tate/LaBianca murders

Haunted Places

This podcast is brand new (these are the only two episodes out so far!) but it’s perfect for Halloween.

 The Cecil Hotel

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories

Edgar Allan Poe, parts one and two

The Black Dahlia, parts one and two

Bugsy Siegel, parts one and two

Villisca Axe Murders, parts one and two

The Mystery of the Somerton Man/Taman Shud, parts one and two

The Zodiac Killer, parts one and two

If you need a little palate cleanser but still want to hear about spooky things, here are some podcasts covering creepy topics that are meant to educate and entertain, not scare!

Stuff You Should Know

What’s the Deal With Rasputin’s Death?

(Approximately) 10 Things That Vanished Mysteriously

The Dark Origins of Fairy Tales

How Haunted House Attractions Work

Do Zombies Really Exist?

How Exorcism Works

The Tomb by HP Lovecraft

Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe

Halloween Scarefest (2014)



Medical Cannibalism

Corpse Theft and the Resurrection Men

The Unkillable Phineas Gage

Aah, Real Monsters!

Do you have other recommendations? Let me know in the comments!

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Creepy Podcasts for Halloween Pin

13 Vintage Halloween Pictures to get you in the Holiday Spirit

It’s mid-October, which means Halloween is right around the corner. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t really feel like Halloween to me. It might have something to do with the temperatures outside or maybe it’s because I haven’t had any apple cider. To get both you and I into the holiday spirit, I combed the archives (lots of archives, actually) to bring you thirteen vintage Halloween photos!

Wait wait, lets set the mood with some music. Try this song, or maybe this one.

Alright, now let’s see what we’ve got here…


“Trick photo” of a decapitated man, ca. 1875. Image via George Eastman Museum.


Costumed passengers at the Tallahassee Municipal Airport, 1984. Image via Florida Memory. (Can you imagine showing up to the airport like this today?!)


The Nereidian Club, a synchronized swimming club, swim with a skeleton at Duke University, date unknown. Image via Duke University Archives.


Halloween party flyer from Duke University, 1976. Image via Duke University Archives.


Halloween party flyer from the Duke Graduate Student Association, date unknown. Image via Duke University Archives












Monster College graduation at Knott’s Berry Farm, 1990. Image via Orange County Archives.


Ghostly image created via double exposure, 1899. Image via National Archives UK.



Underwater witch in Rainbow Springs, FL, 1950s. Image via Florida Memory.


Agar Adamson in a very impressive Napoleon Bonaparte costume at a ball in Toronto, 1898. Image via Library and Archives Canada. (It appears that Canadians do Halloween right.)


Elvira and friends at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt, 1986. Image via Orange County Archives.


Halloween party at the Methodist Orphanage in Raleigh, NC, 1950. Image via State Archives of North Carolina.


Press photo for The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, 1969. Image via Mousetalgia.


NC State students dressed as Paul Stanley and a scarecrow, 1991. Image via NCSU Libraries.

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Vintage Halloween Pictures


What are “The Winston Hours”?

Where did the name of my blog come from? If you think it’s a reference to Winston Churchill, you’re absolutely correct.

I came across the phrase while reading a book on President Franklin D. Roosevelt (which I can no longer find…I know it’s on my bookshelf, I just can’t figure out which book I found it in.) I thought the story was entertaining and the phrase just hit my ear so nicely.

The phrase was coined by someone in the Roosevelt White House. I’ve read that it was first uttered by Eleanor Roosevelt but I’ve also read that a member of the White House staff came up with it. So while I can’t say who created this phrase, I can confidently say that it was used to describe Churchill’s erratic schedule and FDR’s attempts to keep the same schedule when the men were together.

Churchill liked to stay up late, making it so he’d wake up late the following morning. According to Eleanor, Churchill’s daily schedule while at the White House looked something like this:

  • Have breakfast delivered at 9 AM
  • Wake up and actually eat breakfast around 11 AM
  • Work with Roosevelt, or by himself, until after lunch
  • Take a two-hour nap, waking up around 5 PM
  • Eat dinner
  • Get to the “real work” after dinner, staying up until 2 or 3 AM

Roosevelt tried to keep a similar schedule but this was nothing like his usual day-to-day. Roosevelt was an avid bird watcher and liked to wake up at “ungodly hours” to do so (Eleanor wrote that he never invited Churchill to bird watch with him, probably because he knew Churchill wouldn’t like getting up at that hour.) After Churchill left, Roosevelt would spend days recovering from “keeping the Winston hours.” Apparently, he’d sleep 10 hours a night for three days trying to get back on his normal schedule.

Eleanor repeatedly hinted that this schedule wasn’t good for him and he needed his rest but Roosevelt wouldn’t listen. Aside from being leaders of the two most powerful members of the Allied powers, they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company (see point 8 in the telegram below).


Telegram from Roosevelt to Churchill, January 1942. Image via FDR Presidential Library & Museum.

So “the Winston hours” refers to Churchill’s unconventional work schedule and President Roosevelt’s struggle to accommodate the Prime Minister. I’m unsure if Churchill kept a similar schedule at home or if the 5 hour time difference between London and DC had something to do with it. Either way, I loved the phrase and decided to start this blog because I desperately needed A) something that would allow me to use my education and B) something to name “the Winston hours.”

Oh, and I know what you’re thinking. It was Winston Churchill. Surely they were enjoying a few drinks during these late nights. And you’re absolutely right. Churchill enjoyed dry martinis (although he was not a fan of Roosevelt’s dry martinis), Johnnie Walker Red, champagne, or a good brandy. But it was the strange hours that were taxing on Roosevelt, not the drinking. He was a drinker in his own right, preferring the aforementioned martini and various dark rum cocktails.


All images via the Franklin D. Roosevelt President Library and Museum
Churchill at the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt
How to Drink Like Winston Churchill by Warren Dockter
In the Darkest Days of World War II, Winston Churchill’s Visit to the White House Brought Hope to Washington by Erick Trickey


The Origins of the Bottle Tree

If you live in the Southern United States, chances are you’ve seen a bottle tree. Even if you don’t live in the South, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one. Sometimes they’re artificial, a “tree” made of wood, or sometimes metal, with colorful glass bottles on the “branches.” Sometimes it’s an actual tree that the owners have put bottles on.

Growing up in Florida and now living in North Carolina, I’ve seen my share and always thought they were a lawn decoration cooked up by people who love to recycle. Glass bottles can be quite beautiful, especially the colorful ones, and I totally understand not wanting to throw them away.

Not surprisingly, I was wrong.

Bottle trees have roots (pun fully intended) in Africa.


Rusted Roots, a bottle tree sculpture at the North Carolina Museum of History. Photo by Megan Burgess, 2017.

Sources agree that the bottle tree originated with slaves brought to the South from Central and West Africa. It’s estimated that approximately 40% of the 10 million slaves taken from Africa during the Atlantic Slave Trade were from this area. Much of this region was influenced by the Kingdom of Kongo at this time, which had a tradition of attaching ancestors’ plates to tree branches near their grave to “arrest their talents” for the living.


Kongo Tree Altar. Photo taken by Jerry L. Thompson for the Museum of African art. Image via Faces of the Gods: The Artists and Their Altars by Robert Farris Thompson.

On the other side of the Atlantic, this tradition morphed into the bottle tree. Tree branches were cut down to just a few inches and bottles placed on the stubs. While any tree could be used, crepe myrtle trees became the tree of choice because they symbolized freedom and the Promised Land. The myrtle tree (different than the crepe myrtle) is referenced in the Bible in conjunction with the Hebrews’ escape from slavery but I couldn’t find concrete evidence that that was the reason for the crepe myrtle being the preferred tree. If you’ve ever been to the south, you know that crepe myrtles are plentiful. I have to wonder if that is part of the reason they were chosen to make bottle trees.

In any case, the color of the bottles was far more important than the tree they were placed on. Cobalt blue, the color of the bottles on Rusted Roots, was the color of choice because it symbolized the space between the realm of the living and the dead. It was thought that wayward souls were trapped in this space.

The bottle tree helped ward off bad spirits and bring good luck.

The spirits would be attracted to the bottles shining in the sunlight (or moonlight), become trapped inside, and burn up in the sun. The wind whistling through the bottles was thought to be the spirits moaning.


Cobalt blue bottles on Rusted Roots. Photo by Megan Burgess, 2017.

Today bottle trees can still be seen and have become part of southern lore.

They’ve crossed the line into folk art and a quick search for “bottle tree” brings up tutorials for making your own, pre-made trees for purchase, and even brightly-colored bottles to adorn your tree with. That feels a little disingenuous to me but to each his or her own, I suppose.


Bottles on Rusted Roots. Photo by Megan Burgess, 2017.

Next time you see a bottle tree, or perhaps the first time you see one, know that they are steeped in history and are not a lawn decoration created by people that love to recycle.


Rusted Roots plaque. Photo by Megan Burgess, 2017.

Sources not linked in post

The Legend of the Southern Bottle Tree
The Bottle Tree

Who Was Viola Desmond?

Every once in a while I come across an event or a person I’ve never heard of. Most of the time it’s because they’re from a part of the world or a time period I just haven’t studied much. But sometimes I don’t know why or how I never managed to run across this person or event. That’s the case with Viola Desmond (née Davis.)

Who was Viola Desmond?

Viola Desmond was a hairdresser, beautician, and businesswoman. Modeling herself after Madam CJ Walker, she built a thriving beauty supply business and beauty school in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was biracial, one of ten children born to a black father and white mother. Her parents were active members of the community and raised Viola and her siblings to be ambitious.


A tin of face powder from Viola’s line of beauty supplies. Image via CBC and Nova Scotia Archives.

On November 8, 1946, 32-year-old Viola was headed to Sydney, Nova Scotia for business. About halfway through the nearly four and a half hour drive, her car broke down. Stranded in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, knowing she’d have to wait overnight for her car to be fixed, she decided to see a movie. She headed to the Roseland Theater, a landmark in New Glasgow, and purchased a ticket. After handing the ticket-seller $1, she received seventy cents and a balcony ticket in exchange.


Viola Desmond. Image via CBC and Wanda Robson.

Viola entered the theater, presented her ticket to the ticket-taker and continued into the main seating area. The ticket-taker, Prima Davis shouted that her ticket was an upstairs ticket and that’s where she’d need to go. Viola returned to the ticket counter, explained the situation, and claimed that there must be some mistake. She hadn’t ordered a balcony ticket. She offered to pay the ten cents difference in the ticket prices.

The ticket-seller, Peggy Melanson, simply replied, “I’m sorry, but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.

Viola immediately recognized that she was being forced to sit in the balcony because of her race.

She turned and reentered the theater, silently walking to the only partially full main seating area. She quietly took a seat, waiting for the movie to start. Prima Davis followed her into the theater and said, “I told you to go upstairs.”

Viola remained still

Prima left and returned with a manager, Harry MacNeil, who threatened to have her removed. The theater had a policy that allowed them to deny service to “any objectionable person.” Viola calmly pointed out that she hadn’t been denied service, she had just been denied a downstairs ticket. She wasn’t making a scene and didn’t believe they could, or would, legally kick her out of the theater.

MacNeil left, irate, and returned with a police officer. Again, Viola told them that she only wanted to sit in the main seating area. She couldn’t see well from the balcony. The officer grabbed Viola by the shoulders while MacNeil grabbed her legs and together, they dragged her to the lobby. She lost her purse and a shoe in the process. When they stopped in the lobby, a bystander brought her her purse and the officer allowed her to get her shoe. Then she was put into a waiting taxi and taken to the police station. About an hour later, MacNeil and the Chief of Police, Elmo C. Langille, returned to the station with a warrant for Viola’s arrest.

She was taken to the town jail where she was held for twelve hours…in a cell with men. They kept bringing more men in as the night progressed. Viola later recounted, “The matron was very nice and she seemed to realize that I shouldn’t have been there.”

Viola Desmond on Trial

The next morning, Viola was brought in front of the town magistrate, Roderick Geddes, McKay. She had not been briefed of her rights, had no lawyer, and there was no Crown attorney (government prosecutor in the Canadian legal system) present. She was charged with violating the provincial Theatres, Cinematographs, and Amusement Act. While that act had no clauses related to racial segregation, it did state that patrons would pay an amusement tax on any tickets purchased in provincial theaters, such as the Roseland.

Viola’s ticket, the balcony ticket, cost 30¢. The main floor ticket cost 40¢. They claimed that Viola had paid 30¢ for a 40¢ ticket, making her 1¢ short on the amusement tax. The witnesses testified that she knowingly purchased a balcony ticket and then took a seat in the main seating area. Viola was asked if she had any questions and she later recounted that she didn’t realize they meant questions for the witnesses. She was being asked to perform a cross-examination in undeniably vague terms with no lawyer on her side. When she took the stand, she testified that she offered to pay the difference but was told they wouldn’t allow that. You’ll remember that she had initially given the ticket-taker $1, plenty to cover a floor ticket in the first place.

At the end of the trial, Viola was found guilty and fined $26: $20 was the minimum fine for this offense and the other $6 went to Harry MacNeil, who was listed as the prosecutor in the case. To put it another way: she had to pay the theater manager who helped drag her out of her seat and obtained a warrant for her arrest.


Viola Desmond on the front page of The Clarion, December 1946. Image via The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Viola, with the support of the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP), appealed the verdict. She lost the appeal but the judge conceded that it wasn’t about that 1¢, it was about unspoken segregation “laws” in the province. He stated, “One wonders if the manager of the theatre who laid the complaint was so zealous because of a bona fide belief there had been an attempt to defraud the Province of Nova Scotia of the sum of one cent, or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce Jim Crow rule by misuse of a public statute.”

It was an unbelievable use of a loophole to prosecute someone based on the color of their skin.

The case garnered a lot of attention, much of it negative, which weighed heavily on Viola. She divorced her husband, shut down her businesses, and moved to Montreal, Quebec. She eventually left Canada and relocated to New York City where she died in 1965 at the age of 50.

In 1954, Nova Scotia abolished the province’s segregation laws. But we know that just because something is off the books doesn’t mean that it stopped happening. While segregation was no longer legal, Nova Scotians continued to fight for equality.

In the meantime, Viola and her story all but faded away.

Viola Desmond’s Legacy

In 2000, Viola was the subject of the documentary Long Road to Freedom: The Viola Desmond Story.


Viola (right) and her sister, Wanda. Circa 1950. Photo via CBC and Wanda Robson.

Still, it wasn’t until the 21st century that her name and story became known again, thanks to the work of her sister, Wanda Robson. In 2010, Wanda wrote a book about Viola, Sister to Courageand travels around Canada to speak about her sister. Thanks to Wanda’s work, Viola was granted a posthumous apology and pardon by the Canadian government in 2010.


Wanda Robson and then-Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia Mayann Francis hold hands as the province formally pardons Viola. Image via CBC News.

In 2012, the Canadian Post released a Viola Desmond stamp.

In 2014, Nova Scotia honored her on a new holiday.

Also in 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights included an exhibit about Viola in their “Canadian Journeys” gallery.

In 2015, community members in Halifax erected an outdoor movie screen in her honor. The project was spearheaded by Hope Blooms, an organization that helps at-risk youth.

And in 2016, it was announced that Viola would be the first Canadian woman to appear on the Canadian ten-dollar note.

She is often called the “Canada’s Rosa Parks”, which I think is unfair. Not only because Viola’s act of peaceful defiance came nearly a decade before Rosa’s but because we don’t need to compare the two. Yes, they made their mark in similar ways but both are worth acknowledgment. Calling her “Canadian Rosa Parks” erases her name again. Don’t erase it. She deserves to have her story told and her bravery recognized.

Colour-coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse, Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History
So Seldom for Us, So Often Against Us: Blacks and Law in Canada by Esmeralda M. A. Thornhill
The story of Viola Desmond, “Canada’s Rosa Parks” from CBS News
How civil rights icon Viola Desmond helped change course of Canadian history by CBC News
And while I didn’t use it as a source, I found this lovely children’s book about Viola’s case, Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged.

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