Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Dispatches from Occult Moundsville

First off, apologies for the lack of new content on this blog. It's been a busy year for Recluse. In addition to hosting the weekly podcast The Farm, I'm also finishing up on my third book. The latter has proven to be quite a task, already totaling well over 100k words. Hopefully, I'll be dropping something truly epic early next year. There are some other projects that I've been working on this past year that will hopefully come to light in early 2022 as well. Again guys, sorry for the lack of content, but I promise I've been staying busy. 

On that note, let's move on to the housekeeping. As I'm sure many of you are aware by now, The Farm has its own subscriber's section, with exclusive guests and content. Appearing in the latest installment is the great Fortean researcher (and fellow Strange Realities speaker) Joshua Cutchin. He has appeared on many radio shows/podcasts, including Coast to Coast AM, Radio Misterioso, Gralien Report, Mysterious Universe and Where Did the Road Go. He has been a guest on the History Channel show Ancient Aliens and is the author of four books. They include A TrojanFeast: The Food and Drink Offerings of Aliens, Faeries, and Sasquatch; The Brimstone Deceit: An In-Depth Examination of Supernatural Scents, Otherworldly Odors, & Monstrous Miasmas; Thieves in the Night: A Brief History of Supernatural Child Abductions; and Where the Footprints End: High Strangeness and the Bigfoot Phenomenon, Volume I & II, with the great Timothy Renner.

In this wide ranging discussion, Josh and I use the mysterious Mound Builders of North American as a starting point. We get into the various traditions explaining them, allegations of both giant and pygmy skeletons found within the Mounds, and the general high weirdness surrounding the structures. This leads us to the concept of "Window Areas" and ley lines.

Ohio's legendary Great Serpent Mound

From there, we tackle the stellar orientation these structures frequently possess and their harmonic vibrations. Then we come to a subject that has long fascinated me: the ritual and symbolic significance of decapitation. Inevitably, UFOs and entheogens are mentioned frequently in this encounter, along with my own personal knowledge of Moundsville, WV, and New Smyrna Beach, FL. Besides mounds, those two locations have some other interesting curiosities. 

And remember, this is just the latest addition to the ever-growing roster of exclusive subscriber shows. Prior guests include Diana Walsh-Pasulka, Richard B. Spence, Christopher Knowles, Russ Baker, Douglas Valentine, Robert Guffey, Adam Gorightly,  Russ Bellant, Greg Bishop, Walter Bosley, Andre Gagne, J. Michael "Doc Future" Bennett, Erica Lukes, and so many more. Up next is the return of Gordon White to The Farm for an epic parapolitical dive. 

A Blast from the Past

Another nice thing about my discussion with Josh is that it provides me with an excuse to revisit a bit of VISUP history. Native American mounds have long fascinated me. I've lived near the remnants of Mound Builder civilizations for much of my life, first in Appalachia, then in Florida, and once more Appalachia. As such, they were one of the first subjects I approached when this blog was launched in 2010. The first installment in my "New World?" series was completely centered around mounds, and was either the second or third thing I wrote for VISUP. It actually appeared online prior to VISUP moving to Blogger in October 2010. 

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being embarrassed by this piece now. Those were the days when it seemed like my well-thumbed copy Sinister Forces Book I provided a clear road map to all things. Hopefully I've grown as a researcher since those bygone days.

I'm still fascinated by the Mound Builders, and even more so by one of the strangest locales (which is say something...) in West "By God" Virginia. That would be Moundsville. I first visited Moundsville towards the end of the '00s, after reading Levenda's opus. It was certainly an experience, and immediately came to mind in terms of odd places I could chronicle for this blog. So, I set out to reacquaint myself with Moundsville and its curious attractions during early November 2021. 

The day I set out was an apt one: November 2. In Catholicism, this is All Soul's Day, a time to remember the departed. In Mexico, it's also a part of the famed Day of the Dead celebration. And to be sure, death loomed over the entire outing. The day before (November 1, Day of the Dead proper and, fittingly, All Saints' Day) I published a personally significant podcast on The Farm: a requiem for Ed Coffman, alias "Don Diligent." Longtime readers of this blog may recognize the name. Ed/Don was a regular commentator and an occasional collaborator. This post was partially based upon his groundbreaking research, for instance. To say nothing of the invaluable contributions Ed made to The Farm. 

Ed was one of the amazing people I've been blessed to encounter during my eleven years running this thing. And he was the only member of the "WACL Crew" whom I did not get to meet in person, much to my eternal regret. We tried to make it happen twice this past summer, but it just wasn't meant to be. 

So, death was in the air by the time I arrived in Moundsville. And it wasn't just from the holiday or my thoughts of Ed. The two locations I was intent upon visiting were also steeped in it.

The first location up for consideration was the legendary Grave Creek Mound, one of the largest native mounds still standing in the entire United States. During it's heyday, the mound stood at 69 feet (it's still 62 in its present incarnation) high with a base diameter of 295 feet. It was composed of 60,000 tons of Earth and is believed to have been built around 200 BC. It is generally credited to the Adena, possibly the most mysterious of the Mound Builder cultures.  

Despite many of the documented curiosities surrounding this culture, embellishments still persist. Levenda claims in Sinister Forces Book I that the Adena were abnormally tall, with men occasionally topping seven foot and women routinely over six foot. This is contradicted by the scholarly account presented by William S. Webb and Charles E. Snow in The Adena People. Per Webb and Snow, the average height for men was 5'6 while women were typically 5'2. This doesn't seem to suggest the women were routinely over six foot. In fairness, Webb and Snow write that the denizens of the Hopewell culture that superseded the Adena one were on average taller. Perhaps Levenda was confused? But he certainly isn't the only one to make such claims:

The museum next to Grave Creek Mound from which this display derives is quite impressive and completely free to the public. It also has a lot of random stuff thrown in that is completely unrelated to the Adena, Mound Builders, or Grave Creek Mound. At least one display was quite synchronistic to yours truly: 

On The Farm, we've been looking at one time Democratic vice-president nominee, New Age guru, and population reduction advocate Barbara Marx Hubbard. She'll also be turning up in my forthcoming book. Hubbard, despite her later ties to the Democratic party, came from a staunch Republican family. Her father, Louis Marx, was a hardline anti-communist and friend of longtime FBI capo J. Edgar Hoover

Louis Marx was a wealthy man, having made his fortune in the toy racket. The above display is celebrating his contributions to said industry. Every Christmas, Hoover's top underlinings at the FBI could expect Louis to shower them with free "samples" of his most popular products. Why this display ended up in a museum dedicated to a Native American Mound in northern West Virginia is anyone's guess, but it certainly reinforced the rightness of the trip in my mind. 

Of course, if you're talking Grave Creek Mound, one inevitably has to address the stone/tablet allegedly found within the structure. The mound was initially excavated in 1838, the same year Joseph Smith "returned" the golden plates that contained the Book of Mormon to an angel. I mention Joseph Smith here, because he supposedly found those golden plates originally near Palmyra, New York, which was reputed to possess Adena mounds at one point. Evidence of the Adena east of Pennsylvania is scarce, but there do appear to have been mounds there. Regardless, this was the heyday of archeological forgery concerning the mounds. Smith didn't cash in, but others surely did. 

Joseph Smith

Moundsville was first established by the Tomlinson family towards the end of the eighteenth century. For two generations, the family had avoided tampering with the Grave Creek Mound. But Abelard Tomlinson, a grandson of Moundsville's founder, decided to break with family precedent. He procured $2,500 from a Wheeling physician named James W. Clemens to excavate the site. Adjusted for inflation, that's nearly $75k in 2021 dollars. Not a modest sum of money, in other words, hence Tomlinson and Clemens were not doing this out of a love for history. Rather, they hoped to establish a museum next to the mound. 

And build a museum they did. It was right at the base of Grave Creek Mound, a rotunda carved into the side. It was haphazardly constructed, leaking not just water into the museum, but a white mass of animal and human fat from the burials in the mound. Lighting was provided by candles while a giant Native American skeleton loomed over the whole affair. It was overwhelming described as "morbid." 

Clearly, what was needed was an attraction. While Tomlinson and Clemens expected to find gold and jewels within the mound, only simple artifacts emerged. Save for one. 

Levenda describes the Grave Creek tablet inscriptions as possessing Phoenician characteristics, sometimes dubbed "Punic" (a Semitic language associated with ancient Carthage), that was common in Spain some 2000 years before the tablet's discovery. Further, Levenda claims at the time of the tablet's discovery, the script had not yet been deciphered. 

Elsewhere Jason Colavito, writing in The Mound Builder Myths, alleges that James Clemens himself forged the tablet. Further, Colavito makes a compelling case that Clemens lifted the script from a 1752 work by Luis Jose Velazquez de Velasco, Marques de Valdeflores entitled "An Essay on the Alphabet of Unknown Letters." Clemens even appears to have transcribed several of the errors the Marques made in the original text. 

Carbon dating would go a long way towards resolving this controversy. But that's not an option as the original tablet apparently disappeared off the face of the Earth after the original Grave Creek museum was shuttered in 1844. It was last known to have been in the possession of archaeologist Edwin Hamilton Davis before being lost to the sands of times. That Davis did not feel compelled to do more to preserve such a potentially groundbreaking discovery is telling. 

Another interesting point Colavito raises in The Mound Builder Myths is that six plates, allegedly containing Chinese characteristics, was "discovered" in 1843 near Kinderhook, Illinois, at a local mound. These plates were then dispatched to Joseph Smith for translation. Smith began the process of translating the plates, but soon lost interest. It was for the best, as the plates were later revealed to be a hoax designed to expose Smith as a fraud. 

Controversy over the historical legitimacy of Mormonism was raging at a time when the Grave Creek tablet was unearthed. It seemingly upheld the Book of Mormon's claims of contact between the New World and the Near East from ancient times. If Tomlinson and Clemens were deliberately perpetuating a hoax, did they have a specific audience in mind? To his credit, Smith doesn't appear to have taken the bait. 

Atop modern day Grave Creek Mound, there is a modest obelisk. Fittingly, there are signs that it has been adopted as a pilgrimage site for the dead. In this case, the contemporary tradition of "pennies from heaven" seems to be the basis:

Yes, I left my own penny for Ed. 

On the Dark End of the Street...

As impressive as Grave Creek Mound is, the structure on the opposite side of the street gives it a real run for its money. The West Virginia Penitentiary was originally constructed in 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War. The prison was actually built by it's future inhabitants as the war raged. 

The prison's legendary Gothic revival-style architecture was inspired by the design of Illinois State Prison at Joilet. The design was chosen for the stated purpose of conveying "to the mind a cheerless blank indicative of the misery which awaits the unhappy being who enters within its walls." In other words, the very architecture was selected for its ability to induce terror in the inmates. 

If that wasn't enough, West Virginia conducted it's state executions at the prison for decades. Nearly a hundred men were put to death there between 1899 and 1958. For much of that time, hanging was the preferred means of execution. Public executions were still conducted at the prison until 1931. They were only stopped after a mishap led to a prisoner being decapitated by his hangman's noose in front of the crowd. Later, the electric chair was used to carry out executions during the 1950s. The chair used at Moundsville was dubbed "Old Sparky" and was built by one of the inmates. In total, nearly a thousand people are known to have died on the prison grounds, but records prior to the 1930s are missing. 

Old Sparky wasn't the only contribution the inmates made to the otherworldly design of the prison. One inmate, a former truck driver convicted of murdering his wife, provided some of the more striking works of art present in the prison. The prison cafeteria was considered to be one of the finest eating establishments in the area and open to the public at large. Guests could enjoy some of the compositions of said inmate, who was colorblind, over their lunch:


Unicorns actually appear regularly throughout the prison, courtesy of the same artists

A self-portrait...

For reasons that should be obvious, the Moundsville prison has been a recurring staple in American pop culture over the years. Moundsville native and novelist Davis Grubb featured it in several of his works, most notably Fools Parade and The Night of the Hunter. Both of these novels were later adapted into films. The Night of the Hunter in particular is a stone cold film noir classic that captures the eerie vibe of the prison and town. 

It has also appeared regularly on paranormal shows, including MTV's Fear and the Travel Channel's Most Terrifying Places in America. When not appearing as itself, it frequently stands in for other prisons. Most recently it was used to depict the legendary Shawshank State Prison from the fiction of Stephen King in the TV series Castle Rock. It also turns up in Mindhunter and even the video game Fallout 76.

The Moundsville pen standing in for Shawshank in Castle Rock

Nor is pop culture the Moundsville prison's only claim to fame. Another was cult leader Charles Manson. It has long been claimed that Manson's mother, Kathleen Maddox, served time at the Moundsville prison and that he visited her there as a child. I have not been able to definitively confirm this, though Manson did spend part of his wayward childhood near the prison and several unidentified relatives did serve time there. In that Foul Year of Our Lord 1983, Manson even requested a transfer there. For some strange reason, it was declined. 

A bizarre synchronicity in all of this are the similarities to the final assault in Night of the Hunter and Manson family's creepy-crawly activities. For those you who have not seen or read Hunter (*SPOLILERS*) the Robert Mitchum character, a serial killer masquerading as a preacher, tracks the children of a woman he's murdered to an isolated farm house. There, with only a old woman to protect them, the inhabitants try to survive a night of Mitchum's various attempts to breach the house. One is left with the distinct impression Charlie was a fan. 

Nor was Manson the only figure with parapolitical significance who found themselves in the orbit of Moundsville and its prison. Moundsville is fifteen minutes south of Wheeling, WV. It was there, on February 9, 1950, that Senator Joseph McCarthy delivered his infamous "enemies within" speech, brandishing a list of suspected Communists in the State Department for the first time. This marked the onset of McCarthyism and the nation's Second Red ScareDonald J. Trump's future political mentor, the mobbed-up attorney Roy Cohn, first rose to prominence as McCarthy's chief council during this era. It is quite fitting this chain of events would begin less than ten miles from the Moundsville prison, if I do say so. It further contributed to the haunting of this nation by various sinister forces. 

Cohn (left) and McCarthy (right).
Cohn and McCarthy were both protégés of Louis Marx's pal, J. Edgar Hoover 

Would you be surprised to learn that the Moundsville prison has reputation for being one of the most haunted spots in this nation dear reader? Probably not. One of the earliest images of a purported "Shadow person" was also snapped at the prison during 2004.

Besides the horrendous conditions of the prison, was there possibly something else at play? 

located in the Warden's quarters..

At the edge of 17...

Probably just a coincidence. 

Regardless, one single street in Moundsville, WV has managed to capture the national mind in a striking way. Whether you realized it not, this tiny town in West Virginia has been molding the popular culture in subtle way for decades now. It first haunted us in Night of the Hunter and now it's become a stand-in for Shawshank. But there is no escape from the prison in twenty-first century America.  

Was that always the point? Were the builders fully aware of what they were unleashing when this monstrosity was constructed next to an important Native American ritual center? I suspect so. For those musings and other sinister implications at Moundsville and similar sites across the nation, be sure to check out my interview with Josh