Monday, November 9, 2015

Paranormal Road Trip: Washington D.C. with R.S. Belcher

Paranormal Road Trip: Washington D.C. with R.S. Belcher

Come on boys and ghouls!  It's time to hop on Route 666 for a spooktacular Paranormal Road Trip.

This week's stop is Washington D.C. and our special guide is R.S. Belcher, author of NIGHTWISE.

Washington D.C.'s Top 5 Spooky Places

The characters in my novel, Nightwise, pay a visit to Washington D.C. and attempt to run a caper on the occult agencies of the U.S. shadow government.  I used to live in D.C. when I was going to graduate school and working as a private detective.  I found it to be a fascinating city with a very unique feeling of power, criminality, culture, antiquity, and weirdness—the city hums with all of it.

So when I lived in D.C. and then, years later, when I researched my characters coming to town to stir up trouble, I discovered all kinds of cool and strange things about the District.  I thought I'd share them with you as part of your paranormal road trip.

The Octagon House:  This home in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood is reported to be one of the most haunted locations in the District.  The Octagon is one of the oldest buildings in Washington D.C. and was built in 1799.  The house was declared a national historical landmark in 1960 and opened as a museum in 1970. 

There has been all manner of supernatural phenomena and entities reported in Octagon House over the centuries.  As far back as the 1800's, spectral servant bells ringing are recorded through much of the house's early history, even after the cords for the bells were cut.  Ghostly apparitions have been sighted on the stairs and stair landings, as well as the ghost of  First Lady, Dolly Madison, who has been seen in the house on multiple occasions.  The Madison's resided in the house briefly after the burning of the White House by the British in the War of 1812.

In 1888, a team of twelve men entered the home to either prove or debunk the claims of supernatural activity.  A first-person account of what happened published after the group's overnight stay reported all manner of activity in the home including bloodcurdling screams, the tromping sound of boots, and the clanking of sabers.

The Reston Monkey House: This house was in the suburbs of D.C. , in the quiet little community of Reston, Virginia and was the site where the Hazelton Labs animal containment facility once stood.  This innocuous building, which was destroyed in 1995 by the owner after numerous failed attempts to rent it, is the birth place of the first reported American-based strain of the Ebola virus—Reston Virus, or RESTV.  This strain of  Ebola was only lethal to non-human primates, but its close relation to the Ebola strain that infects humans, viruses nasty habit of mutating, and the facility's close location to the U.S. Capitol set off all manner official and unofficial red flags in the 90s.   

The Monkey house and its unfortunate residents—long-tailed macaques—are highlighted in the novel, The Hot Zone by Robert Preston.  Don't read it when you're coming down with the flu.  You'll be comforted to know if you visit the site today, the new building located where the Monkey House once was has been home to a series of child care related businesses for decades.

The Lair of the Demon Cat:  Legend has it a demon stalks the sub-levels of the nation's Capitol Building.  Washington has a semi-secret underground city—miles of tunnels, corridors, and connecting sub-levels that run between the numerous Federal buildings.  The workers and security personnel that navigate the maze of tunnels have reported encountering a creature that takes the form of a black cat with hypnotic yellow eyes.  This creature, Federal workers have nicknamed “DC,” has shown up since shortly after the construction of the Capitol in 1793. 

The Demon Cat is said to appear to someone just prior to some national tragedy, like the assassination of presidents, the stock market crash that led to the great depression and the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Security guards have claimed to fire on the cat as it came toward them, growing in size and ferocity, only to vanish as it pounced, untouched by the gunfire.   The tales have bounced around the Capitol for over a century.  The legend may date back to the 19th century when building caretakers employed cats to deal with the building's rodent problems.  I have even heard that there is a pair of small cat footprint tracks embedded in the stone floor of the Capitol Rotunda near the old entrance to the Senate hall.  One of the D.C. Roller derby teams call themselves the “D.C. DemonCats.”

Rock Creek Park:  A beautiful and serene oasis of green in the concrete heart of  D.C. the park is often a refuge for joggers, lovers, and those looking to disconnect for a little while from the hum of the urban hive; however, the solitude attracts others with less innocent intent.  Rock Creek has a long history of being the final resting place of victims of murders and suicides.  The most famous of these in recent memory is Chandra Levy, the intern and lover of Representative Gary Condit.  Levy's remains were discovered in the park in the early 2000s. 

Rock Creek has developed an infamous reputation as a hunting ground for serial killers, muggers and rapists looking for isolated prey.  There have been numerous discoveries of slaughtered animals in the park that authorities and park police attribute to sacrifices made as part of the Santeria religion.  The darker aspect of Santeria—Palo Mayombe—is popular with certain drug gangs in the District looking to get a supernatural edge on their competition.

The Underground World of Harrison Dyar:  In 1928, a truck driving near 21st and P street in the District fell into the earth as the street beneath it collapsed.  The incident revealed an intricate series of elaborate  tunnels stretching beneath the city streets, inducing bricked walls, plastered six-foot arched ceilings, and electrical lighting.  Further investigation could not determine the architect of the covert network of tunnels or what purpose for which they were created.

Enter Harrison G. Dyar—an entomologist with the Smithsonian, who claimed the maze of tunnels were a hobby of his with no ulterior motive and that he simply loved to dig.  Dyar stated to the press, when he  came forward to claim the tunnels as his work, that he had discovered this passion while digging in his wife's backyard garden in 1905 and simply kept going. Dyar was a non-descript, hunched man of 58 in 1928 and seemed physically incapable of such an elaborate project on his own.  He admitted to digging other tunnels under the streets of the District, including a massive bunker chamber and more tunnels including pipe ladders to access the various levels.  This complex reached the water table under B Street.  You could toss pebbles into the darkness at the end of one such tunnel and here it splash in the water below.

There were strange things about Dyar's underworld that were never explained to anyone's satisfaction, including sculptures of human and animal heads on the walls at intermittent points along the tunnels, and on one tunnel arch, a Latin inscription—“ Facilis Descensus Averno”—from Virgil, it translates to “The way down to the lower world is easy.”   Dyar never had a chance to be pressed on any more details to his odd, and seemingly, incomplete story.  He died at his desk of a stroke in 1929.
Many theories and rumors persist about the reason for the tunnels, including one tale that claims that Dyar had two families and used the tunnels to move between houses and another tale that he suffered some form of mania that compelled him to keep digging.  The underworld of the mysterious scientist still exists, but the known entrances have all been sealed with concrete. 

Thank you R.S. for giving us such a haunting tour of D.C.! 

To learn more about R.S. Belcher and his books, please visit his website.  You can add Nightwise here on Goodreads.

Nightwise by R.S. Belcher dark fantasy


What did you think of R.S. Belcher's picks for spooky places?

On our last Paranormal Road Trip we visited New York City with Shanna Swendson.  Next week we'll be traveling to Los Angeles with Rachel Marks.

Join us for another spine-tingling Paranormal Road Trip...
if you dare!

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