Sunday, November 13, 2011

Goodleberg Cemetery, Wales NY, in October

 Sacred grounds, cursed. The final resting place of American Revolutionary, Civil War veterans. A dismembering, elusive serial killer. An early 1900's abortion doctor, disposing of bodies in a nearby cemetery. In secluded, small-town America. And why, yes, there is a very good possibility it is the site of an ancient Native American burial ground. Also, evidence of satanic or otherwise dark rituals and vandalism have happened and been reported on the grounds.

 All these things make up the myth, legend and truth that surrounds Goodleberg Cemetery, in Wales, NY. About a half hour from my home, the legend of what happened and continues to occur around the small cemetery continually tops lists of the most haunted places in Western New York. For years I read local supernatural researcher and author Mason Winfield's writing on the subject, and, of course, grew up with bits and pieces of the legend. Naturally, Goodleberg was the perfect destination for an October cemetery this past month.

 Here is what I knew about Goodleberg going in. Sometime in the early 1900s, a doctor who performed abortions disposed of the bodies/fetuses and, on occasion, the body of a mother who did not survive the procedure, in and near a small, rural cemetery and its pond. Decades later, when serial killings took place throughout Western New York, pieces of the victims had turned up around the infamous doctor's cemetery-- and, of course, the land which housed the graves gained the reputation of being haunted, cursed, by the women and children the doctor had buried there.

 All this sounds like the elements of a decent, if not stellar, horror film. For, the stuff of local legends, while hardly ever true, makes great fiction. But. Most of Goodleberg's legend is true.

 Thankfully, we have Winfield's writing and research on the subject to confirm this, as even Goodleberg's Wikipedia page is quite sparse and uninformative, at best. And, quite perfectly, when my partner, friend and I made the trip to Goodleberg this past October, we ran into Winfield at a nearby coffee shop afterwards.

 The facts are among the following. Loosely translated, Goodlberg can mean "Hill of Ghouls." According to the website Dark Destinations, the term "ghoul" is an Arabic one, and it is argued that the name originates more from simply the surname "Goodle," as there is an early woman with the name interred there (although the website is lacking any proper citations.)

 Goodleberg's doctor was named Albert Speaker. According to Mason Winfield's research, Dr. Speaker (1880?-1948) appears to have been a "medical examiner," who acted as more of a coroner. Dr. Speaker had an office in Buffalo (not too far from my house) and a residence in South Wales, on Hunter's Creek Road, very close to Goodleberg. On our trip to the cemetery, we had thought the foundation of a house which can be seen from among the graves may have been Dr. Speaker's-- however, the home he lived in is still standing. It is apparently common knowledge among locals that Dr. Speaker performed abortions, most likely in his home. Whether this alone was enough to spring urban legends of disposed bodies in the nearby cemetery in pond, or whether these locals who have given life to the story are telling the truth-- it is not certain. No police evidence exists of any found bodies-- but, as with so many things about Goodleberg, so many macabre possible coincidences have come together over one, small, country-side cemetery. In his reasearch, Winfield has found the possibility that Dr. Speaker was connected to "crime elements," which may factor into his demise or some of the other, more grisly happenings around Goodleberg.

In October 1948, local papers reported that Dr. Speaker had died of a heart attack. Again, locals disagree, stating that his death was most likely a suicide (of hanging, by some reports, in a nearby tree) to avoid the shame of a trial. Whether this trial may have been connected to performing abortions or missing women, though, remains to be seen. Interestingly enough, Speaker is not buried in Goodleberg, but is interred in a New York City cemetery, by his surviving siblings. There does appear to be a documented connection between Dr. Speaker, the cemetery and at least one of the missing women who did turn up murdered. In August of that same year, Speaker's home was searched by police in connection with the disappearance of Helen Lindeman.

The pond, directly behind the cemetery.
 Some back story on Mrs. Lindeman. The wife of a prosperous dentist (who would have been involved in the same professional and social circles as Dr. Speaker), Helen disappeared while running errands in a small village suburb of Buffalo, NY. Body parts began to be discovered on Hunter's Creek Road five weeks later. Two weeks after that, a torso and head were discovered in remote areas of nearby Cattaraugus County. Dental records were used to identify the remains as that of Helen Lindeman. On Halloween of the same year, after the murder and death of Speaker, fire was set to Dr. Speaker's home. By who, we may never know. Someone trying to conceal evidence? A husband? Locals who knew or presumed to know more of the story?

Other murders in later years came to be linked with the Lideman murder, although no tangible connection ever surfaced aside from being discovered close to Goodleberg Cemetery.

Apparitions of all kinds continue to be reported around Goodleberg. There are reports of those who return to their cars and find small, children's handprints on their windows. Some have reported seeing a woman in black, who many connect to Helen Lindeman, as there were reports of people who thought they had seen her in the Goodleberg area after her disappearance and before her murder, hitch-hiking and wearing all black. Some have reported seeing the legendary large black dogs, or hell hounds. Though no homes stand on the side of the road the cemetery is on, houses are on the opposite both before and after the cemetery. Some locals have reported hearing strange chants in the cemetery at night, and finding strange, burnt markings in the ground and vandalism to the cemetery in the morning. And there are those who suggest that all this may be merely kids horsing around-- drinking, singing, smoking and desecrating the sacred grounds. While we absolutely found evidence of such vandalism, I, surely, still wonder. There simply seems to be something dark about the grounds which attracts other dark energy.

On a superficial level, I felt no such darkness walking through the cemetery. I felt a sadness, after having walked the road to the cemetery (after a car struck and killed someone walking on the road in more recent years, parking is not allowed directly by the cemetery), and saw the stones of these long-ago people turned over; cracked, smashed, vandalized and possibly lost to time. However, I would love to return to the cemetery-- perhaps at nighttime, if cemetery hours allow. I'm sure this won't be my last post on Goodleberg.

View my Photo Album of Goodleberg here: 

Goodleberg Cemetery

Read some of Mason's more in-depth writings on the history of the Cemetery HERE. 

Watch Mason discuss Goodlberg on a local program televised several years ago around Halloween:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remembering Edgar on El Dia de los Muertos

I've always been intrigued by the Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead.) Celebrated on November 1 and 2 to commemorate the Catholic holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Now celebrated actively throughout the world, the day has pagan roots, dating back to an Aztec festival dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of the underworld.

 Every year a local art gallery, El Museo, celebrates the festival with an exhibition "Altars" featuring all kinds of locally done altars. When my good friend Kitty, who manages the gallery, asked if I was interested in being a part of the exhibit this year, I initially jumped at the chance without a clear idea of what I would do. I first had several different people in mind to memorialize in an altar, but when I thought of doing one for my good friend Edgar Allan Poe, a series of ideas came to me and I knew I had to do one for Edgar.

 My first experience doing an art project for a show since elementary school, I had an amazing amount of fun putting this together. The concept of a Day of the Dead altar is creating a display of objects commemorating a departed person's life, which in Mexico traditionally uses sugar skulls and other food objects. Unsure of how to incorporate a sugar skull, the first idea I had was to use some kind of alcohol or brandy for Edgar. The clear choice became the cognac the traditional Poe Toaster, until recently, left on Edgar's grave during the early morning night hours of his birthday, alongside a rose. Each object seemed to flow into the next-- when I thought of the cognac, I pictured the shot glasses standing on stacked bricks from "The Cask of Amontillado," standing in front of the altar.

 I initially wanted to use a photograph of Edgar, but when I thought of which to use, one that wouldn't be too conventional or standard, I had the small revelation that in order to commemorate the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe, the altar should be toward his wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe. His devoted wife, Virginia stands over so much of Poe's body of work. His love for her, and her untimely death at the hands of tuberculosis, created much of his most famous work. Virginia is the maiden Annabel Lee, the long lost Lenore and, I believe the source of the intense fear of death and disease Poe explored in his writing throughout his life. And so, I needed a photograph of her. Which presented a problem, as there is no entirely confirmed photograph of Virgina; only paintings and sketches done after her death. I took the most famous painting, and used photo software to try and make the picture look like a Poe-era photograph. The framed piece became a center of my altar.

 Once put together, the base of the altar was covered by white cloth and frayed grey cloth sold in stores this time of year as "Halloween/creepy cloth." For the surface I used pieces of scrap wood dyed to appear older, for the floor boards from "The Tell-Tale Heart," which, through an opening, holds, in a bed of manuscript pages of Poe's work, a heart. The heart of the old man, and also, in my altar's case, the heart of Poe's work, his love for Virginia. Scattered about the altar are raven feathers, which appear throughout his work; the idea of the raven, that once lost, those we love are lost forever. The manuscript pages I made I took from "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," "Alone," "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat," and all from passages relevant to Virginia and Edgar's relationship.

 All in all, I absolutely loved doing this piece, "Quoth the Raven." Exploring what makes Edgar's work on life, love and death is central to the concept of the Day of the Dead, and to create something, an altar, to memorialize his and Virginia's contribution to the world was a great experience. I was proud to be a part of the exhibit that also held great pieces commemorating lost loved ones, pets, community members, well-known people and even the victims of World War II's holocaust. For anyone who may be in the Buffalo area, the exhibit will be at El Museo through November 25.

You may view my Photo Album of making the piece and the opening here:

Poe Altar, "Altars" Opening, El Dia de los Muertos