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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Suicide Table of Monte Carlo

Were Gamblers Victims of the Grimaldi Curse?

Monte Carlo Casino craps tables

Perched along the French Riviera in Monaco, Monte Carlo has been the playground of the world's most adventurous gamblers since the mid-nineteenth century. Monte Carlo may be synonymous with gambling (although gambling is illegal to citizens of Monaco, strangely enough), but it is also synonymous with mystery and intrigue, as the unusual story of the "suicide table" at the Monte Carlo Casino reveals.

From Las Vegas to Atlantic City, every gambling mecca has a higher rate of suicide than other locales; after all, these are places where fortunes are won and lost in the blink of an eye. Yet no other gaming table in any other casino in the world can be said to be responsible for as many suicides as the "cursed" table, which claimed 113 lives in a ten year span between 1890 and 1900.

 Here is the complete and unabridged strange story of Monte Carlo's suicide table, as it appeared in the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper in March of 1900.

Monte Carlo Casino, circa 1898

Monte Carlo's Terrors: A Suicide Table Where Scores Have Despaired

To the right of the Moorish salon, the second room from the entrance in the great gambling rooms of Monte Carlo, stands the suicide table. This accursed piece of furniture has a record of causing 113 suicides in ten years, according to the count kept by C. Benvenisti, formerly chief of the detectives in this room.
Even the chairs of this table differ in the intensity of their hoodooed state. The chair to the left of the croupier facing the entrance door has claimed seventeen victims. The twenty-third chair accommodated eleven suicides, six women and five men. The others have records of eight, five, four, three and one death.

One day five years ago, writes M. Benvenisti in the Chicago Inter-Ocean, my neighbor at the table was a young Parisian. He sat in one of the one-death chairs and won. When the doors closed he carried off 200,000 francs. Imagine my anticipations when next morning I found him installed to the left of the croupier. I felt like tearing him away or slipping a card into his hand, to warn him against the seat he had chosen, but my official character forbade me to interfere, and, besides, my advice would have been scorned, for the fellow gambled like one mad. He lost his winnings of the day before and 200,000 francs of his own money. When his last 1,000 franc note was gone he rose, and swaying to and fro like a drunkard, stumbled out of the hall, laughing immoderately.

Two of my men led a merry chase for this unfortunate, and when they caught up with him he jumped off the railway bridge, knocking out his brains.

Another case that haunts my dreams! One day and elderly gentleman, Signor Antonio Cesare, who knew my connection with the Casino, compelled me to give him the seat I was occupying. I did so with a bleeding heart, for this old man was the very picture of health, and I was an intimate friend of his cousin, the Mayor of Bentimigli.

Well, this gentleman lost nearly a hundred thousand francs in the day and evening. When he got up, hos own mother wouldn't have known him. He looked ten years older; his flesh had fallen away, madness stared out of his eyes. Next day they fished his body from the lake at Mentone.

Then there were the Parlingtons, refined English people. They were on their wedding trip. I never forgot the look of delight with which young Mrs. Parlington pocketed her first small gain. The pretty bride fairly coaxed her husband to stake 10 francs. When night came they had a couple of thousand francs in their pockets. Next morning they took chairs Nos. 23 and 24. Number 23 brought them the usual luck. They gained 30,000 francs. But on the following day came the inevitable change. The 30,000 francs went back to us, and the couple's little fortune followed. They walked from the room deathly pale, hand in hand. My detectives informed me that they took the train for Nice without troubling about their baggage. They shot and killed themselves in the Windsor Hotel there.

Everybody can see that the cloth on the suicide table is of more recent make than the rest. Yet the Casino company is only 318 francs the poorer on that account. Here are the figures: Cloth for double table, 250 francs; nailing down, 18 francs; total, 318 francs. Against these figures there is an offset of 600 francs, which the Casino company would have been obliged to pay the young Russian for traveling expenses. This Muscovite Prince refused to become a pensioner of M. Blanc's heirs, and blew out his brains over the table where he had dropped his all-- 400,000 francs.

It happened two years ago and it nearly cost me my job. The circumstances that one of the directors of the company drew me into a corner to talk about the same Russian's persistent ill luck just a minute before the shot rang out- that along saved me from disgrace. The incident itself was soon forgotten and had no bearing on the game. It has nothing to do with the superstitions attaching to the suicide table. The ill reputation of that piece of furniture was of many years standing when the Russian committed that flagrant breach of Casino etiquette. He was No. 85 on my list of unfortunates.

When I saw a man or woman approach the suicide state, my first care was to prevent him or her from spoiling more cloth. I signaled my men to press around the party and prevent him or her from putting a hand in the pocket or from striking the croupier. Many desperate cases I approached as a fellow gambler, offering to assist them and pay their homeward journey. I dare say my intervention- which cost me nothing, as the company recouped me- has saved many a poor devil's life.

Whether suicide candidates have a foreboding of evil when they come to our table, I don't know, but a few try to escape their goal. They come flanked by prayers or holding a piece of hangman's rope. Others try to insure their fortune by paying the croupier 100 francs before the day's work begins. Of course, he accepts the bribe. He isn't tampering with his employer's profits.

Francisco Grimaldi, aka "The Malicious One"

Victims of the Grimaldi Curse?

Since 1297, the House of Grimaldi has ruled over Monaco, beginning with Francisco Grimaldi- famously known as "The Malicious One". For it was Princess Caroline of Monaco who brought gambling to Monte Carlo in the 19th century, in an attempt to save the hedonistic House of Grimaldi from bankruptcy. The Grimaldi's troubles go back much further than that, however, leading many people to believe that the House of Grimaldi- if not all of Monaco- is cursed.

It all started back in the 13th century when Prince Rainier I allegedly kidnapped and raped a beautiful maiden, who later became a witch--  cursing the prince's family for all eternity. Perhaps the best-known cruel twist of fate for the ruling family took place in 1982, when Princess Grace died of injuries sustained in a car accident. In 1983, Princess Caroline, after ending a tumultuous 2-year marriage to a French playboy, married Stefano Casiraghi, who was killed in a boating accident not long after. In 2005, a day before Prince Ranier died at the age of 81, his son-in-law, Prince Ernst, was admitted to the hospital with a sudden and mysterious illness which nearly claimed his life.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that the Monte Carlo Casino is cursed, but some would say that it's more than just a coincidence that the same casino founded by a princess of Monaco-- founded for the sole purpose of restoring the Grimaldi fortune that had been squandered through centuries of scandal and lavish living-- has such a checkered and bloody past, much like the principality of Monaco itself. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Famous Phantoms of the Sea

(The following is a reprint of an interesting article written by F.H. McLean, which appeared in the Washington Herald on June 2, 1909)

Sailors and fishermen are the most superstitious of men, as they are also the most sensitive to ridicule. On this account it is most difficult to get the old salts to relate the yarns of the ocean. For this reason, also, we on land hear little about the phantom ships and the ghosts of the sea. But on a recent trip along the coast of the British Isles, many legends were related to the writer which also recalled other phantom tales of the sea.
On the various parts of the British coast phantoms of the sea have frequently been seen. Cornwell, in the olden days, was notorious for wreckers, who worked their evil will along the ironbound cliffs. Priest Cove is still believed to be haunted by one of the gentry who, during his lifetime, preyed upon the spoils of ships lured ashore by a false light hung around the neck of a hobbled horse. On stormy nights the wrecker is seen, but now no longer on shore. He clings to a fragment of timber among the waves, and is finally dashed upon the rocks and disappears in the raging breakers.

Among the fishermen of the rugged coast of Kerry the following legend, connected with the fate of wreckers, is told. Early in the eighteenth century, one cold winter morning, a large ship, mastless and deserted, was founf wedged in among the rocks of that deadly coast. The wreckers immediately pushed off, and to their joy found that the galleon was laden with ingots of silver and other rich products of Spanish America. They filled their boats to the water's edge and were pulling back, when a huge tidal wave came rushing up out of the west and instantly swallowed them up. When the wave broke not a sign remained of the boat, men or ship, to the horrified watchers on the shore. The tragedy is said to be re-enacted upon each anniversary of the day.

Of all the ghostly wanderers the "Flying Dutchman" is probably the best known, and his story is the most familiar. The version usually accepted is that Cornelius Vanderdecken, a Dutch sea captain, was on his way home from Batavia when, in trying to round the Cape of Good Hope, he met with baffling head winds, against which he vainly struggled for nine long and weary weeks. At the end of that time, finding that his ship was in exactly the same position as at the beginning, Vanderdecken burst into a fit of impious passion and, falling upon his knees upon the deck, he cursed the deity and swore by heaven and hell that he would round the cape if it took him until the day of judgment. Taken at his word, he was then and there doomed to beat to and fro for all time, and sailors' superstition connects the appearance of his phantom ship with certain and swift disaster.

The present Prince of Wales, while cruising with his late lamented brother on the Bacchante in 1861, was a witness to the appearance of a phantom ship. The apparition has been described in these words:

"On July 11th, at four o'clock in the morning, the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light, as of a phantom ship all aglow in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig two hundred yards distant stood up as in strong relief. Thirteen persons in all saw her, but whether it was Van Dieman or the Flying Dutchman, or who else, must remain unknown. The Tourmaline and Cleopatra, which were sailing on our starboard bow, flashed to ask whether we had seen the strange red light."

It is a curious fact that six hours later the able seaman who was the first to sight this terrifying apparition fell from the foretop-mast crosstrees and was killed.

Bernard Fokke

There is another Flying Dutchman in the latitude of Cape Agulhas. This is Bernard Fokke, who lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and who was very different from the ordinary type of Hollanders. Fokke was absolutely fearless and reckless and boasted that his vessel could beat any other afloat. He cased her masts in iron and crowded more sails upon her than any ship dared carry to make good his boast. It is on record that he made the trip from Rotterdam to the East Indies in ninety days, a feat which in those days seemed miraculous. In his anxiety to beat even his own record, the story goes that he sold his soul to the Evil One, and Fokke and his ship both disappeared at his life's end. With no other crew than his boatswain, cook and pilot, transported to the scent of his exploits, he is condemned to strive endlessly against heavy gales that ever sweep him back.

The fact remains that whether the phantom ship be that of Vanderdecken or Fokke, nine tenths of all the reported appearances of phantom ships are between the fortieth and fiftieth latitudes. Rarely a year passes without some vessel sighting these ghostly wanderers of the sea. While spectre ships usually hail any vessel which they meet, all sailors believe it the height of bad luck to reply in any way.

The rocky coast of New England is haunted by several ghost ships. The story of the Palatine is a terrible one and her appearance flying down Long Island Sound is generally recognized by coasters and fishermen as a forewarning of a disastrous storm. The Palatine was a Dutch trader which went ashore on Block Island in 1752, lured by false lights exhibited by wreckers. Having stripped her, the wreckers fired her in order to conceal all traces of their crime. As she was lifted by the tide and carried, wrapped in flames, out to sea, shrieks of agony burst forth and a woman, supposedly a passenger who had hidden from the wreckers, appeared on deck amid the crackling blaze. In an instant the deck collapsed and she vanished.

Another phantom ship which is an omen of disaster is the vessel built at New Haven, which sailed on her maiden voyage in January, 1647. The following June, one afternoon there came a furious thunderstorm and after it was over about an hour before dark, the well known ship was sighted sailing into the river mouth-- but straight into the eye of the wind. The shore was soon crowded with people watching her, but while still a mile or more away she slowly vanished. The apparition, it was agreed, signified that the vessel herself had been lost and in fact she was never again heard of. Longfellow's poem, embodying the story, is well known, but one verse may be quoted:

And the masts with all their rigging
Fell slowly one by one;
And the hull dilated and vanished
As a sea-mist in the sun.

The flagship of the fleet sent by Queen Anne against the French still haunts the stormy Gulf of St. Lawrence. Just as the fleet reached Gaspe Bay, a fearful gale rose suddenly and the ships were driven, one after another, on the rocks and dashed to pieces or sank. Under the cliffs of the ill-named Cape d'Espoir, the flagship came to her end, and upon each anniversary of the wreck she appears. Her deck is seen covered with soldiers and from her wide old-fashioned ports, lights shine brightly. Up in the bow stands a scarlet-coated officer, who points to the land with one hand, while the other arm is around the waist of a handsome girl. Suddenly the ship lurches violently, the lights go out, her stern heaves upwards, and screams ring out as she plunges into the gloomy depths and vanishes.

Many of the phantoms of the sea are not easy of explanation and have ever remained a mystery, while others have been elucidated, as for instance the well known phantom ship of Cape Horn. Vessels on their way from Europe to Western America via Cape Horn, have been startles time and time again by the sight of a large ship with decks awash drifting in an almost impossible position beneath the giant cliffs of the Straits of Lemaire. At night or in storms this barque with her towering white sails has indeed a strange appearance. The Crown of Italy, attempting to go to the aid of the supposed derelict, ran upon a reef and was wrecked, and several other vessels met a like fate. At the request of the United States, the Argentine government sent a steamer to investigate. It was found that the supposed phantom was nothing but a rock, which by a freak of nature was white instead of black like those surrounding it, and bore the most startling likeness to a ship with sails set and deck just level with the waves.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The strange tale of a haunted staircase

Blake Hall, Mirfield, West Yorkshire

Built in 1745, Blake Hall was one of the most breathtaking homes in the West Yorkshire town of Mirfield until it was torn down in 1954. From old photos, one can easily imagine garden parties and games of croquet taking place on the expansive lawns. In the spring of 1839 the Ingham family, who lived at Blake Hall at the time, hired a 19-year-old governess to raise the Ingham children. That governess, Anne Brontë, fictionalized her experience at Blake Hall in her novel, Agnes Grey.

The most impressive feature of the mansion was the Queen Anne staircase, hand-carved from rare burled yew. After being salvaged prior to the demolition of Blake Hall in 1954, the staircase was purchased by an antique dealer. A few years later, Gladys Topping and her husband Allen were in London, browsing the Kensington Antique Fair to find furnishings for their Beach Lane home in Quogue, Long Island when they met the dealer who possessed the exquisite staircase. The Toppings dove 50 miles to the dealer's warehouse, where they saw the Queen Anne staircase and fell in love with it. The Toppings has the staircase shipped to their newly-built home in Long Island where it was immediately installed.
But then, about four years later, strange things began to happen.

On September 3, 1962, Gladys Topping was sitting in the second-floor bedroom, alone in deep meditation. Her husband died the previous April, but before he died he had given Gladys a Doberman pinscher puppy, whom Gladys adored. Shortly after sunset, Gladys heard footsteps on the stairs and the dog went off to investigate. She found the dog, hackles up, growling down the stairs. When Gladys looked to see what the Doberman was growling at, she saw the figure of a young woman ascending the stairs, dressed in a long, full skirt. The dog backed away in fright as the figure continued to climb the stairs, but the ghost then vanished.

Even though the ghost never again appeared, Gladys Topping claims to have heard it on numerous occasions- always on the staircase. Could it have been the ghost of Anne Brontë? Gladys thought so. "Anne- if it is indeed Anne- apparently doesn not wish to reveal herself anymore," Mrs. Topping told a newspaper reporter in September of 1966. "She seems content just going up and down the stairs."

Read the 1966 newspaper article about the haunted staircase here

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ghost hits man in head with potato!

Back in 1957, Canada was abuzz over the "Dagg Ghost", which supposedly haunted the 19th century homestead of George Dagg in Shawville. After CBC aired a television program about the ghost, the Dagg farm received hundreds of visitors per day. The April 9, 1957 edition of the Ottawa Citizen devoted an entire page to the Dagg ghost, who seemingly was fond at throwing potatoes at peoples heads. 
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