Ghostly Cats & Spectral Zookeepers


How many of the gringa’s dear readers believe in the existence of ghosts? According to the Pew Research Center, 18% of all Americans claimed to have seen a ghost, 29% claim to have felt a touch by a ghost, and more than 30% believe in the existence of ghosts. So, no need to feel embarrassed or alone if you are pro-ghost.

The gringa used to believe in the existence of ghosts until I became familiar with dark matter and learned that the human consciousness can exist outside the human body.

I even have two ghost stories of my own!

#1. When the gringa was in middle school, I spent a week at a lake cabin with a friend’s family. I got to have my very own room. The first night sleeping alone in this new space, I was awakened by the feeling of something jumping onto the foot of the bed. I then felt the sensation of what I assumed to be cat paws gently walking alongside my body then settling down to sleep beside me. It even felt warm. Since I was an animal lover and it was dark, I didn’t even bother to rouse myself enough to peek at the cat. I wanted to be a good bed partner and not disturb its desire to rest. This happened all week. I don’t remember what day during the week I mentioned my nightly visitor to my hosts. But I do remember their response and how tense my nights were after I found out that they had no cat. The gringa believed she was sharing her bed with a ghost cat, or, at least the consciousness of a cat. A friendly sort, though.

#2. My other ghost story is not really a ghost story at all, but a tale of how ornery the gringa can be. One of my sisters was a bit of a drama-mama. When we moved into a new house she was a bit freaked out by the news that the previous owner’s husband had died in the house. She was further convinced this was terrible news because, apparently, it had been his dream home, constructed according to his own design, and where he retreated for a pleasant retirement. Until he dropped dead just a few months into said retirement. She was convinced that an attachment like that could only mean that ol’ Mr. Walker would be haunting the place. The gringa was happy to oblige her imagination.

We shared a room so it was easy for the gringa to prank her. I would really step up my game if she annoyed me for any reason. She was a bit of a neat freak and very orderly. I would swipe things like a hairbrush or trinket box then put it in a strange place, like the closet shelf for her shoes or inside our shared stereo’s cabinet for the record player (yes, it’s been that many years ago). The gringa would then feign innocence, absolutely baffled and mystified how such things could happen. Then I would casually say, “Well, I guess it was Mr. Walker. Maybe he didn’t like it that you left your hairbrush out.” or something to that effect. It would get her every single time. And I have never told her different. Even now, as middle-aged adults, she thinks that old house is haunted or else she knows the truth and is humoring the gringa.

But is it possible for an old house to be haunted by a dead person’s consciousness who is so attached that they don’t want to leave? Can animal spirits inhabit the earth after their death? The gringa can only say that, according to what she knows of dark matter and conscious existence outside of our physical body, yeah, it’s possible. But it wouldn’t be a ghost as we traditionally know it. It would actually be that person or animal’s consciousness minus their physical body. Their consciousness existing in the dark matter universe, yet able, from time to time, to exercise whatever it is that allows them to somehow manifest themselves to us in this universe.

Now, the gringa doesn’t think that means that a person would be subjected to 24-hour surveillance by such. To exist in a state where physical form, or matter, doesn’t matter (pardon the pun), that means one could not exist in a world where the laws of physics makes matter, um, matter. What the gringa thinks happens is that hiccups in space or, perhaps, bursts of concentrated energy by a consciousness, allows for a breakthrough between the two worlds. A “ghostly” encounter then occurs.

For ghost-phobic individuals, there is good news if you are getting ready to re-locate. A website, DiedInHouse.com, is a database that links death announcements, certificates and law enforcement records to home addresses. It costs about twelve bucks for the service but you find out more than just if your prospective home might contain a ghost. You will discover if it was ever used as a lab for making methamphetamines, has a history of fire, if a sex offender was ever registered there and if it is in a flood zone. But I digress.

Is haunting a serious problem in homes? The gringa’s research reveals that hauntings are commonly reported. Sometimes they even lead to lawsuits. However, many people live with ghosts just fine. And it’s not just houses that can be haunted. In the gringa’s neck of the woods even the Houston Zoo is reported to be haunted by its first zookeeper who was a bit of a peeping Tom.

Houston media has made the most of this local legend. Just about every area newspaper, radio station or television news syndicate has a story about Nagel in their archives. Considering that he wasn’t just a zookeeper, but also a trainer of big cats, the gringa suspects Nagel had a consciousness bigger than life with that kind of courage and steely nerves. Maybe he really is still inhabiting the space of the Houston Zoo on a dark matter level.

He survived an alligator bite in 1924. The following year he had to take some time off after a raccoon incident and, later, a monkey attack. In 1928 a 5-ton elephant stepped on him. Three years later a leopard took a swipe and laid him open. He was also nearly killed by a 450-pound lion but his trusty assistants came to the rescue. There are numerous accounts of painful encounters between Nagel and badgers, bears, porcupines, tigers and zebras. Once, a python tried to make a meal of Nagel but he got the snake in a headlock and beat him at his own squeeze game.

Locals would also call Nagel out for neighborhood wildlife problems. He captured a bobcat that was eating the poodles of the rich ladies living in River Oaks. He lassoed a wayward bull elk and a lioness that both escaped the zoo and were wandering city streets. A city filled with bayous, he was also a very popular alligator catcher when populations would become problematic.

Nagel was quite a character who also carried a pistol whenever he was on duty. His pistol came in handy when he saved a guest to the zoo from being mauled by a Bengal Tiger. This action earned him a gold medal from the City of Houston. And it may be his feisty character that ultimately led to his controversial demise and dogged refusal to leave the Houston Zoo even after death.

You see, he got himself into a bit of trouble with the law. He was accused of abuses of power by the City Park Commission. Upon the Commission’s recommendation, Houston Mayor, Walter Monteith, rescinded Nagel’s special commission as zoo police officer. But, true to Nagel’s strong-willed character (after all, when military life didn’t agree with him he ignored the rules, jumped ship and went AWOL), Nagel continued with his armed zoo patrol which ended up getting him shot dead by a legitimate law enforcement officer in 1941.

When Nagel noticed some youngsters going at in their car in the zoo parking lot, he crept into some bushes and watched. A police officer on patrol also noticed the amorous pair (and Nagel, the peeping Tom). Stopping to question the pair, the officer asked if they knew that they had an audience which, indeed, surprised them. As the officer approached Nagel, intending to handcuff him and take him down to the pokey for a firm discussion about where, exactly, his jurisdiction was (within the confines of the zoo’s grounds), Nagel decided he would not be treated in such a way. He resisted arrest. And, he was armed with his pistol. Which the officer claimed he began to reach for. So, said officer blasted him 6 times with his own pistol until Nagel lay dead in the road.

And what of Nagel? Some say he is still around, particularly hanging out in the Commissary, overseeing the food preparation for all the animals. This seems reasonable since the Commissary is the closest building to the area where he died. Staff reports hearing voices early in the morning and seeing a shadowy figure that resembles a man walking about. Zoo officials have even gone so far as to have paranormal investigators get involved. The only thing this produced were a couple of electronic voice phenomena (EVP) recordings that do sound like human voices.

But who would he be talking to? The gringa thinks maybe to the consciousness of animals that have died at the zoo. Maybe death was the most wonderful thing to happen to a zookeeper devoted to all of those animals. Now there will be no nasty misunderstandings leading to getting bit or sliced and diced. Kind of makes dying not seem so scary after all.

Sources:

Pew Research

DiedInHouse

Houston Chronicle

Texas Archival Resources Online

Image Credit:

Mr. Wallpaper

Video Credit:

CrashCourse

New Thinking Allowed

houstonartsandmedia

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Suicide Forest


Every weekday the gringa looks forward to 4pm.  That’s when my oldest son calls me as he drives home from work. He is a bit of a political revolutionary, young, passionate, ready to change the world. Although he loves to talk politics, current events and debate solutions, the very first thing he asks me is, “How was your day?” I usually tell him boring, just the way I like it since I am a “no drama mama”.

Although he doesn’t read my blog, he always asks me what I’ve been writing about. In a recent conversation, when I told him about my underwater Japanese mystery city post, he said, “You should write about the Suicide Forest.” I had never heard of such a thing so, of course, it totally piqued the gringa’s interest. Although I usually like to keep my stuff focused on science, mysteries and the interestingly inane, a dark, macabre cultural piece has begun a creative itch that simply must be scratched.

In Japan there is Aokigahara which, roughly translated, means “Sea of Trees”. Sounds romantic, right? Well, it is more commonly known as the Suicide Forest and is situated near the northwest base of Mount Fuji, covering almost 14 square miles of raw woodland. Thick with foliage and set against the backdrop of a majestic volcano, it would seem to be the perfect spot for a picturesque photo safari for a tourist until you realize what the locals do here, the hike of no return.

Why is Aokigahara such a select place for suicide? Perhaps it is because the undergrowth is so dense a corpse can go undiscovered and undisturbed. Local officials estimate that roughly 100 persons kill themselves in this forest annually. However, because many go undetected, the suicide victim count could be much higher. Despite instituting prevention methods such as surveillance cameras  and posting encouraging signs throughout the paths that have messages reminding folks how precious their life is to loved ones, Japanese people determined to take their own lives still succeed in their mission.

The favorite method of self-inflicted death is hanging. However, ingesting poison runs a close second and then there’s option number three, a drug overdose.  But why here? Officials point to a popular romantic tragedy written by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto. His 1960 novel  depicts a failed love story. The heroine ultimately ends her life in the Sea of Trees. She chose the Sea of Trees, according to the story, because, referenced within the tale by the author, she reads the book The Complete Suicide Manual which describes the forest as the “perfect place to die”. This novel has been found with many of the victims.

Every year volunteers gather to roam the thick stands of old trees and deep undergrowth to search for human remains. Officials have ceased to publicize the results of these grisly corpse hunts. Curious people like the gringa can only refer to earlier published reports that clearly indicate an average of 75-100 bodies returned to families for burial annually.

In the West, suicide is stigmatized. This is greatly due to our religious conditioning. Even if a person is not a practicing Jew or Christian, Western culture still considers suicide as anything but honorable. Some consider it self-murder. In fact, that is how it is considered by much of Western law. It is against the law to kill a human being, including yourself. Many religious sects believe a suicide victim’s remains have been desecrated by the act. Such bodies are not allowed to be buried in hallowed church cemeteries. But suicide is considered very differently in Japan.

In the Japan of old, ubasute was considered an honorable solution to ignoble suffering. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures. If years of famine or drought rolled around, a head of a household would have to consider the effect it was having on his family. How many mouths were there to feed? How much food was there to go around? In order to survive, the least productive family member with no future, basically the old folks, would be led up into the mountains and abandoned to their natural fate of a slow death by exposure. Whether or not ubasute was ever widely practiced is irrelevant. All that matters is that it is a strong feature of Japanese historical myths and legends which has helped to shape their cultural practices and beliefs. Suicide is noble if it preserves the honor, integrity and prosperity of the family.

Although ubasute may be the stuff of legends, noble Samurai suicides are well documented throughout Japan’s feudal history.  It was the honorable way to go out. Seppuku culture views it as a way of taking responsibility of a situation that has gone bad.

Because suicide is considered a virtuous solution and is not stigmatized the way it is in Western culture, Japan ranks the world’s leader in suicide. When the entire world became mired in an economic crisis in 2008, over 2,000 Japanese chose suicide over living a life of financial ruin.

Should you, like the gringa, find the disturbing allure of Aokigahara irresistible and mark it as a place to visit and satisfy your own curiosity, or perhaps meditate in an effort to bring peace to a place that must be saturated with anguish, there are a few things you may want to know before you arrive:

  • Hauntings – It is said that the Sea of Trees is filled with yurei, or, ghosts. And these are not your average ghosts. They are mourning and vengeful. They desire company, your company. Legends go that they attempt to lure you off the beaten path so that you become lost in the wilderness and die like the ubasute victims of old.
  • Camping – Overnight camping is allowed. Be aware that local forest patrols are trained to consider tents as a sign that someone is taking their time about contemplating suicide. Don’t be surprised if a ranger shows up and begins conversing with gentle words of affirmation and encouragement. If he suspects you are engaged in a mental suicide debate, he will probably urge you to pack up and leave.
  • Tape – As you explore the forest on nature hikes, you may see tape looped in the branches of trees and bushes. These are the signs left behind to mark the path of corpse searchers in their attempt to not become lost.
  • Demons – What is attributed to demonic interference by local legend is more likely the result of geology. The area is rich in iron which affects magnetics. GPS systems, ye olde compasses and cellphone are pretty much useless. If you can’t navigate by the stars, for heaven’s sake don’t get off the trail!
  • Be Prepared – Like a good boy scout who is prepared for anything, mentally brace yourself for the very real possibility that you could stumble across a decomposing body, skeletal remains or personal effects of a victim of the forest.
  • More Than Death – Despite the ghastliness of the Sea of Trees being called Suicide Forest, there is still much more to be appreciated. Don’t let a macabre history put you off as a tourist. There is, of course, the fantastic opportunity to be near Mount Fuji. Great photo opportunities also await on the lava plateau, ancient centuries-old trees and the bewitching ice-scape of the Narusawa Ice Cave.

The gringa would love to go there and contemplate respectfully. Although I am a bit of a prankster and once staged a tragic fall down a rocky cliff when the caveman and I hiked about the Smoky Mountains, I’m certain this knowledge of Aokigahara will keep me in a more subdued state of mind.

Source:  www.mentalfloss.com

image: www.jennyjinya.deviantart.com