Charles Q. Choi
|Photo taken by Dave Dyet. There are no usage restrictions for this photo
For all of their stomach-turning gore, horror films and haunted houses attract people in droves. This ability of the human brain to turn fear on its head could be a key to treating phobias and anxiety disorders, according to scientists.
When people get scared, their bodies automatically triggers the “fight or flight” response—their heart rates increase, they breathe faster, their muscles tense, and their attention focuses for quick and effective responses to threats.
“It’s nature’s way of protecting us,” said clinical psychologist David Rudd at Texas Tech University.
If the brain knows there is no risk of really being harmed, it experiences this adrenaline rush as enjoyable, Rudd explained. The key to enjoying such thrills lies in knowing how to properly gauge the risk of harm.
“Young children may overestimate the risk of harm and experience true ‘fear.’ When that happens you see the child cling to a parent and cry, convinced there’s a very real chance of harm,” Rudd told LiveScience. On the other hand, “adults may well scream but quickly follow it with a laugh since they readily recognize there’s no chance for real harm.”
On a higher level
This phenomenon also explains why people can enjoy skydiving, bungee jumping and extreme sports.
“In these cases, those engaging in high-risk activities will tell you that the risk is lowered by their training and precautions,” enabling them to enjoy the experience, Rudd said. The key structure in the brain responsible for this effect is likely the amygdala, he added, which is key to forming and storing memories linked with emotions.
The ability to enjoy fear makes evolutionary sense, said environmental psychologist Frank McAndrew at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.
“We’re motivated to seek out this kind of stimulation to explore new possibilities, to find new sources of food, better places to live and good allies,” McAndrew said. “People enjoy deviations from the norm—a change of pace, within limits.”
Key to therapy
If exposed repeatedly to a fearsome stimulus, the brain will get used to it and no longer experience it as frightening. This is a key behind cognitive therapies for anxiety dysfunctions such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, where a person’s system overreacts to perceive something as threatening when it is not, Rudd said. When such cognitive therapies are combined with medicines, their success rate at improving symptoms “is 80 percent,” he added.
Meanwhile, McAndrew is exploring what makes houses feel haunted in the first place.
“We’re focusing on what architectural features make houses appear haunted or not,” he said. “We’re finding they tend to be laid out in a confusing way, so that you’re not sure where you are in the house. They’re high in ‘mystery’—you can’t see very far in the house. And there are all kinds of sounds and smells not usually found in a house that can make it seem creepy.”
5 Most Haunted Places In America
Stories of Ghosts, Spirits and Haunted Houses for Halloween
By Joe Oesterle October 29, 2009
5 Most Haunted Places In America
© Mania/ Robert Trate
Ahhh, Halloween. A time of free candy, hot chicks dressing up as French maids and strange stories of the dead. We’re all out Butterfingers, and the last babe in fishnets just left the building, but we still have plenty of grisly anecdotes.
So prepare to be terrified by tales of sadistic slave owners from the dead. Read if you dare, the horrifying accounts of presidential slave abolitionists from the dead, and brace yourself for the shocking saga of the bankrupt comedian with an apparent foot fetish… from the dead.
5. The LaLaurie House, New Orleans, Louisiana
Facts can morph into fiction over the years, and while some now claim this narrative has developed into more exaggeration than actuality, one of the best-known ghost stories in the Big Easy is easily the sickening chronicle of Madame Delphine LaLaurie. The madame grew up in the lap of luxury, and was twice widowed before she married physician Dr, Louis LaLaurie. The wealthy couple bought a three-story mansion in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter and were known to throw lavish parties, even by upper class standards.
To neighbors and friends, Delphine presented herself as a congenial and caring woman, but behind the closed well-crafted doors of her opulent manor there was a sinister side to this well-bred socialite. Ms. LaLaurie was a cruel and twisted woman who delighted in creating new tortures for her stable of slaves. Legend has it one of Ms. LaLaurie’s young slave girls either snagged a knot while brushing her owner’s hair, or accidentally burned it with a hot curling iron. Regardless of the innocent mistake, the malicious mistress began beating and whipping the frightened 13-year-old servant, until, panic stricken, she ran out of the room. In her desperate escape to avoid the corporal punishment of an insane slave owner, the poor child jumped out of a closed window, and splattered on the street below. The incident was purportedly hushed up, but rumors started to grow about a darker side of the happy hostess.
Colleagues would whisper to each other about how it seemed the LaLaurie’s slaves would suddenly go missing, only to be replaced with a new unpaid laborers, and accounts of Delphine chasing and beating slaves with her horsehide whip swept through the affluent community. A few months later, a fire broke out in the kitchen of LaLaurie Mansion. As firemen arrived on the scene they were startled to discover the blaze was purposely set by a pair of slaves who were shackled to the stove. The slaves admitted to starting the inferno in hopes of being discovered.
After the flames were put out, the firemen noticed a locked door to a hidden upstairs room. Inside the attic they found no less than a dozen naked slaves – both men and women, chained to the walls, locked in dog cages and strapped on medical tables. Body parts were strewn about. Eyes torn out from their sockets, mouths sown shut and genitals had been sliced off. One man had a hole drilled into his head to expose his brain. A stick was jammed inside his cranium as if it were some sort of gruesome medical experiment.
The LaLauries were not home at the time of the fire, but word reached them, and fearing their ghoulish secrets had been uncovered, they fled, never to be seen again. In the centuries since these horrific incidents, there have been numerous ghost sightings and unexplained incidents at the mansion. It is said the plaintive wailing of the mutilated slaves and even the unrelenting crack of Delphine LaLaurie’s whip can still be heard to this day.
4. The Former Home of Redd Foxx – Las Vegas, Nevada
By the late-‘80s, one of the original modern day blue humor comics, Redd Foxx had earned and subsequently spent tens of millions of dollars. Gambling, women, drugs, were a few of his vices. Alimony put a huge dent in his wallet, and to make financial matters worse, he failed to pay his taxes. In 1989, in front of news cameras, the I.R.S. busted into his home on 5460 S. Eastern Avenue in Las Vegas, Nevada, seized all of his possessions while Redd stood in the street wearing little more than a pair of briefs around his waist, and a disgusted look on his face. Two years later Foxx died bankrupt and bitter. There are some however, who suggest ol’ Redd never moved out of his Las Vegas mansion.
Many paranormal experts conclude that it was Redd’s impoverished upbringing that won’t allow him to “let go” of his remaining worldly goods and travel away from this mortal plane. Some suggest that having had so little money to begin with, and making so much only to have it ripped from him during his final years, it is not hard to believe that Redd Foxx has decided to stick it to the afterlife’s version of “the man” and stay where he was most contented.
It was at this home that Redd was said to be at his happiest, and most comfortable. The building is now owned by Shannon Day Realty, Inc. and while the I.R.S. may have succeeded in apprehending his earthly treasures while he was among the living, Redd Foxx, cosmic prankster refuses to be evicted.
Former tenants of the building say they often heard unexplained noises, and light switches that were manually flipped in the down position when no one else was in the building, would inexplicably be turned to the on position hours later. Doors would open and close themselves, and window blinds would rustle without the benefit of wind. Karen Henderson, a real estate agent at the company, claims to frequently hear the front door chime, as if someone opened the door and walked through to the lobby. When she picks her head up from her computer monitor to welcome the visitor, there is often no one there to greet her. On other occasions, she swears her Word documents have changed font color from black to red on the monitor, and at other times the font will appear black on the screen, but print red on the page.
“Just about any time I wear sandals or open toed shoes, I get the sensation that the tops of my feet are being tickled. I just chalk that up as Redd being in a playful mood.” To honor the spirit of Redd Foxx, and to make sure this spectral stand-up remains on good terms with his corporeal housemates, Shannon Day has painted little red foxes all around the agency. “I have seen some things I can’t explain,” says the current owner of Redd’s former property, “I don’t necessarily believe, but if he is here I want him to feel welcome.”
3. The Comedy Store – Hollywood, Ca.
Not a haunted house per say, but The Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, California has been an in-between residence for many up and coming comedians over the years.“They say there’s a couple of different spirits that haunt this place,” confirms an employee of The Comedy Store who does not wish to be identified. “The Belly Room gives me the heebie-jeebies. Waiters and wait staff say they had the room set up for the night, walked downstairs into the kitchen, came back and everything was put back the way it was.” Our insider adds, “This place is kind of like (the movie) The Shining… A lot of things have happened here… you don’t have a place like this that doesn’t leave some sort of trace.”
Whatever happened, most likely happened during the ‘40s and ‘50s when the establishment was known as Ciro’s; the most glamorous night club in Hollywood. For a time, Ciro’s was the social hotspot of Tinseltown’s rich and famous. Top-tier talent like Martin and Lewis and the Desi Arnaz Orchestra would perform to equally well-know audiences of Betty Davis, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. It wasn’t all laughter and music at Ciro’s however. While the club may have officially been owned by Hollywood Reporterpublisher Billy Wilkerson, it was a poorly kept secret L.A. crime boss, Mickey Cohen was running more than a few illicit activities out of Ciro’s back room. The anonymous tipster also mentions, “There’s a stairwell in the back, and people don’t realize it, but there’s a machine gun port there. People have been whacked walking up the stairs when they shouldn’t have been… that whole area is creepy.”
Modern day comics at The Comedy Store are concerned with tickling the funny bone, but Cohen’s boys were more likely to fracture a femur bone, bust a kneecap, or, if mob justice decreed, the offending party took a dirt nap. Much of this rough business was done in the basement and backroom. It is rumored there are still bodies buried under the floors. Perhaps the most famous ghost of The Comedy Store is Gus. Gus worked as a part-time doorman at Ciro’s and part time hit man for Cohen’s gang. Whether he crossed the wrong goodfella, or he was simply a shoddy doorman, Gus was brutally slain by his former employers. But just because he got himself killed, the ghost of this departed tough guy sees no reason to leave his favorite hangout. Gus is one of the friendly ghosts.
Other tales of playful poltergeists include candles relighting themselves seconds after being blown out, and chairs piling themselves in an aisle seconds after being neatly stacked. Comedian Blake Clark refused to believe in paranormal manifestations, until he started working at The Comedy Store. Blake recalls locking up alone after hours and watching in startled amazement as a chair glided from one end of the stage to the other. Clark also remembers fellow comedian Joey Gaynor taunting the apparitions once the club had closed for the night. After Gaynor goaded the ghosts to show themselves, an ashtray levitated off the table, and ostensibly hurled itself at the sardonic comic’s head. Gaynor ducked just in time and the projectile exploded against the wall behind him.
The Comedy Store’s lower level contains no affable apparitions. The banshees of the basement are just plain evil. The furious ghost of a woman who purportedly performed illegal abortions on many of Ciro’s dancing girls is said to be violent and frightening; and she’s the sweet one by comparison. Another ghoul is described in “Haunted Hollywood,” (a book by Laurie Jacobson and Marc Wanamaker) as a hulking, amorphous 7-foot figure of pure malevolence. Still another is capable of chilling the air enough you can see your own breath, while simultaneously heating your skin until it burns. The Comedy Store is owned by legendary surrogate mother of stand-up comics, Mitzi Shore, and her son, comedian/actor Pauly Shore. It is rumored the phantoms and the Shore’s live under an uneasy alliance. If the ghosts promise not to haunt Mitzi or Pauly, the Shore’s pledge never to show Pauly’s 1996 comedy, Bio-Dome, within 500 feet of the building.
2. The White House – Washington D.C
The official residence and home office of our nation’s leaders has certainly welcomed a good number of transparent figures over the years, but it’s also been reported, and by some fairly credible witnesses, that this place is crawling with spooks – and not just the CIA kind.Legend has it that when First Lady Edith Wilson planned to re-landscape the famous Rose Garden, another First Lady intervened – the late Dolley Madison to be specific. Dead Dolley designed the original Rose Garden while she was a living Doll, and reportedly, was so upset after hearing the news of the remodeling, she had a few choice words with the workmen on the grounds from beyond her gave. The gardeners reportedly left in quite a hurry, and since then there have been no attempts to give the well-known flower patch another makeover.
Over the years there have been multiple sighting of a deceased British soldier carrying a torch and roaming the halls at night. Little is known of this ghost, but he is rumored to be one of the men who burned down the White House in 1814. Another First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln supposedly heard the specter of Ol’ Hickory himself, Andrew Jackson on a number of occasions cursing a blue streak, which leads us to the most celebrated phantom of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – Abraham Lincoln. While on this mortal plane, Lincoln spoke publicly about an eerie dream he had. “In the dream, I was awakened by a faint moaning coming from somewhere nearby. I stood, and began hunting the noise, finally finding my way to the east room, where men and women were shrouded in funeral shawls. I saw a coffin on a dais, and soldiers at either end. A captain stood nearby, and I addressed him ‘Who is dead in the White House’ say I. ‘The President,’ is his answer, ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ In the coffin was a corpse in funeral vestments, but the face was obscured. A loud sob left the crowd, and I awoke.”
It is said that Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman believed the spirit of Lincoln would occasionally roam his former home, and both Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy would speak openly, often asking the 16th president for advice. During a visit to the White House, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was put up in the Lincoln Room on the second floor when she heard a knock on the door. When Her Majesty opened door she claims she saw the gangly ghost of Honest Abe and fainted on sight.According to Maureen Reagan, daughter of the late Ronald Reagan, even the Reagan’s dog, Rex refused to enter the Lincoln bedroom, but could often be found just at the doorway barking and snarling at no one in particular.
1. The Whaley House – San Diego, California
Constructed in 1856, on a former gallows site, the Whaley House is the oldest two-story structure in Southern California history. The home contains a ballroom, a theater, a parlor and even a courthouse. What gives the Whaley House its mark of distinction though, is the family of ghosts, who are believed to inhabit the premises. Whaley House is haunted, honestly and legally. The structure is one of only two haunted houses certified by the California government. (The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose being the other.)
There are reportedly as many as 13 different apparitions who linger in the home possibly believing sunny Old Town San Diego to be a more attractive option than the hereafter. Chairs move by themselves, windows and doors open and close without explanation. Chains, footsteps and strange mists are known to frighten the docents of the domicile today. Even the family dog, Dolly, runs down the halls, and brushes against legs of guest’s while pursuing an ethereal kitty cat.
Thomas Whaley, the original Lord of the manor, often materializes at the head of the stairs to the master bedroom. It is not uncommon for visitors to smell the smoke of his cigar or hear his baritone laughter echoing throughout the house. Anna Whaley (Thomas’s wife) is also known to make frequent appearances. Described as a beautiful and graceful woman dressed in gowns of gingham, her flowery perfume and lilting voice envelope the air followed by the eerie strains of a distant piano.For the most part the spirits of Whaley House are on the friendly side of the astral plane. Yankee Jim Robinson, on the other hand has an axe to grind. Robinson, according to legend, was a horse thief, a claim jumper and an alleged murderer. It was, however, the stealing of a rowboat with the aid of his unlawful associates, which eventually earned Yankee Jim the hangman’s noose.
While Yankee Jim’s henchmen only got a year in the pokey, Robinson was hanged for his crime. (It seems his reputation preceded him.) At a time when the average man in the county stood about 5 foot 5 inches, Yankee Jim stood well over 6 feet. The hulking Robinson was hung from a branch barely taller than him. Instead of snapping his neck instantly, the dastardly cur was left to twist and choke, nearly on his tippy toes, for up to 45 minutes before he was pronounced dead. Thomas Whaley, a witness to Robinson’s death often wrote in his journal that the ghost of Yankee Jim resided on the property. Visitors to the estate often experience feelings of strangulation as they walk through the archway located between the music room and the parlor. It was in this exact location, four years prior to the creation of the mansion, on a dark and moonless night, that the hangman’s noose seized the life from Yankee Jim’s ornery body, leaving just his restless spirit behind.
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About our writer: Joe Oesterle is an award-winning writer and illustrator, but what he often fails to mention is that many of those awards were won on a New Jersey boardwalk. Pick up his latest books “Weird California” and “Weird Las Vegas” in any Barnes and Noble near you, and look for his next book, “Weird Hollywood,” due out soon. www.JoeArtistWriter.com And be sure to check out his latest humorous animated video, entitled, “The Balloon Boy Song.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrYRquNyZxU