|The “murder castle” in the early 20th century, when it
had a stylish turret.
This week, the episode of Haunted History I filmed about H.H. Holmes and his Murder Castle aired on H2. I was worried that they’d edit me to look like a nut, but I was reasonably happy with how it came out. Some brief notes:
1. The story of Holmes being a murderer and swindler is true, but I think he was a swindler first and foremost. My own estimate for how many people he killed stands around 10. I imagine there are a few more that we don’t know about, but a few on my list of 10 are “maybes,” really. I’m not totally convinced Minnie Williams was dead, and Emily van Tassel (who was considered a “possible” victim by police at the time, and would likely have been killed closer to the glass bending site, if not right at it) is a “maybe” as well. He confessed to 27 killings shortly before his execution, but a few of those were people who were still alive, a few others never existed at all, etc. See my ebook analyzing the three versions of his confession.
2. The “curse” was real, in that newspapers really did spend years talking about people falling victim to Holmes’s “evil eye.” I don’t think he was really taking supernatural revenge from beyond the grave, though.
3. There is some reason to suspect that it wasn’t Holmes who was hanged. The corpse was covered in cement minutes after the hanging, and before his face was covered by a hood (as was standard practice at hangings, both at Moyamensing and most other prisons), a few reporters noted that he didn’t look like he did in his pictures. It’s theoretically possible that he could have paid off some consumption victim to take his place. It wouldn’t have been easy, but swindles were his business. I know Jeff Mudgett has been trying to have the body exhumed, and I hope he does. If I were a betting man I’d bet it would turn out to be Holmes himself in the grave after all, but even if it is, we can always make a necklace out of his teeth.
4. I think that much of what you hear about what went on in the Castle is based more on urban legend than fact. The “Hotel” was never a hotel in the modern sense of the word; people lived there for months at a time and paid rent. There was no front desk or anything. Residents and neighbors were able to put together a pretty complete list of people who had disappeared from there, and no one ever reported finding some of the torture gear that people talk about now. Everyone who worked in the building had access to the basement. For the record, I think that if the bricks down there are from the 1890s, they’re more likely from the place next door to the castle. But lining up fire insurance maps is not an exact science.
And, of course, while in the tunnel in the basement of that post office during filming, I did record one of the strangest recordings I ever heard.
My opinions on Holmes and what he was and wasn’t up to are constantly in flux as new information keeps coming to light. I began taking groups to the “glass bending factory” site five or six years ago on tours of Holmes sites that I run now and then, but enough weird stuff happened there that I had to add it onto my regular ghost tours, as well.
Or, anyway, enough happened that I let myself have fun with the idea that it was haunted. I’m fully aware that ghost sightings usually turn out to be something else; I always say that “there is no such thing as good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence.”
So, I guess this post is me getting nervous and covering my ass! Feel free to ask any questions about my thoughts on Holmes (and the hauntings) in the comments, and I’ll be glad to clear things up!
I’ve also covered the “glass bending factory” and the “castle” site in far more detail in my new book, due in September. See the banner below.