Review of Haunted Hospitals

Mark Leslie and Rhonda Parrish, Haunted Hospitals: Eerie Tales about Hospitals, Sanatoriums, and Other Institutions (Dundurn, 2017), 220 pages.

 

When Rhonda Parrish moved in next to the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta – reputed to be the most haunted building in the city – the seeds were sown for this book. From there, it took just a brief conversation between Parrish and Mark Leslie, author of Creepy Capital and Tomes of Terror, for the two writers to team up on Haunted Hospitals: Eerie Tales about Hospitals, Sanatoriums, and Other Institutions.

As Parrish notes in her introduction, “Day after day the most extreme of human experiences play out within the walls of hospitals. The most intense emotions are experienced again and again. Birth. Death. Trauma. Suffering.” It’s little wonder, then, that so many stories of paranormal happenings are tied to these institutions.

This nonfiction book is a compendium of stories drawn from interviews, forum and website posts, books of ghost stories, and videos from shows like Ghost Hunters. It is clear that Parrish and Leslie (both curious skeptics) cast their net wide and did a lot of research to bring some of the most notable and chilling tales from haunted hospitals, asylums, as well as prisons that housed the criminally insane.

These stories span two hundred years and come from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Italy, and in many ways feel like a ghost tour you might take on vacation or in your own city around Halloween. Some tales are quite involved and Parrish’s talents as a speculative fiction writer are on full display. You can imagine strolling through the streets of Montreal to the student residence repurposed from a hospital/orphanage where over fifty children burned to death in 1918. You can picture navigating mazes of tunnels beneath sprawling institutions, past the body chutes and the basement rooms where especially unruly patients might be shackled in earlier times. Other entries are more like quick stops along the way, a short blurb in a haunted guidebook (this is especially the case with the ‘Prisons’ section at the end of the book).

As with ghost tours, Haunted Hospitals, is also a great ‘gateway drug’ for those of us interested in history, medical ethics, and how societies have viewed and treated physical and mental illness. It offers good historical context and facts about the buildings as well, and touches on controversies around redevelopment, urban planning, and whether people should use these institutions for haunted tours and other ‘terror lite’ experiences.

Parrish and Leslie challenge us to imagine what it’s like for cities and institutions overwhelmed by tuberculosis, Spanish Flu and the plague to deal in a humane manner with patients. And while they dedicate the book to medical professionals who devote their lives to healing, they face issues of overcrowding, neglect, and patient abuse head on, as well as allegations of medical research and experimentation.

There were two stories, however, where more digging and contextualization (and a bit less sensationalism) was needed. First, the tale of ‘Nurse Emmie’ at Rolling Hills Asylum, a purported member of a ‘satanic coven’, seems to lean heavily on the 1990s-era hysteria over satanic cults that proved to be mostly unfounded. Second, the transcribed 1935 news story of Dr. H.E. Zimmerly in Pennsylvania is problematic. If you have some background on the history of women’s reproductive health, it sounds very much like he was simply performing abortions – illegal at the time – for poor young women with nowhere safer to turn. These were terrifying, of course, but in a different way than the story might have intended.

Like haunted tours of these hospitals and the communities that surround them, it’s tricky to balance the entertainment factor of creepy stories with the history and deeper meanings within them. Generally, Parrish and Leslie do a good job walking this line, giving us the chills we crave while educating us about changing ideas of medical care, criminalization, and mental illness.

This is a fun and thoughtful book, and anyone interested in medicine mixed with the paranormal will find stories to stimulate the imagination – and give you goosebumps.

 

If you’d like to go deeper into the subject of haunted buildings in the United States, and get a bit more of an academic bent on the topic, I recommend you check out Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey.

Want to know more about the complex history and legacy of the Charles Camsell Hospital? Please visit www.ghostsofcamsell.ca, my blog on the topic.

Harvey the Cat at Sienna Library on Oct 29!

In honour of National Cat Day, the Sienna Branch Library in Missouri City, TX is hosting two hours of kitty purrfection on Sunday, October 29. From 2-4 p.m., come out to make DIY cat toys, cat treat recipes, see adorable cats up for adoption, watch funny cat videos, and get transformed by the talented Catherine Gauche Visagie of Sienna Plantation Face Painting.

I’ll be reading  Harvey the Cat at 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. So bring your stuffed animal cats and kittens to snuggle while I tell you this amazing, ‘nearly true’ story!

If you live on the south side of Houston and are bummed you missed my event at Blue Willow Bookshop, I hope you can come join us!

For more details, directions, etc, please follow this link to the library’s site.

 

Harvey the Cat: A Nearly True Story of Hurricane Harvey and the Houston Floods

When life throws overwhelming experiences at me, I write about them. That’s just what I (and most of the other writers I know) do in order to process and make sense of things. So when I recently went through Hurricane Harvey with my family and pets, I started writing.

 

 

 

First it was just a few notes and impressions, getting down the images seared into my mind from the media and our own lived experiences. I made notes of the things my five-year-old son asked us about or said (he’s highly quotable). How our cat, Guinness, acted as we hunkered down, packed up, and fled. What we did each step of the way through the storm leading up to our mandatory evacuation. [Read more about that on my e-newsletter]

I also made notes on a Twitter post about “Harvey the Cat” (real name Bailey) who ended up at the Fort Bend Office of Emergency Management, and then was reunited with his family a couple of days later through the power of social media. And, like everyone else, I saw the epic photo of “Angry Cat Swimming” as it inspired the internet to write memes (the internet sure loves cats!).

 

 

All of these true stories combined into one “nearly true” story of Harvey the Cat, and I’m so excited to share it with the world to help families with their own processing and rebuilding. We managed to make it out safely, came home to a mostly intact home and neighborhood, and now we’re trying help those who weren’t so lucky.

 

Harvey the Cat will make his first appearance at a live storytelling event at Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop on Saturday, September 23 @ 11 a.m. It’s free and for all ages.

UPDATE: the very talented Catherine Visagie Gauthier is donating her time to transform your kids into kitties for this event through face painting. If you have cat ears or tails at home from costumes, why not bring them too!

Like the storm, this event is evolving constantly, so I’ll post new details as they come up here and on the Facebook event page. The Houston Chronicle is our media partner on this project and will be recording the event and hopefully creating a digital version that we can share widely soon.

I’m waiving my usual speaking fees with this story and ask that you donate instead to Blue Willow’s Hurricane Harvey Book Drive or one of the other organizations listed on their site.


If you want to organize a book/donation drive event in your community (or through your school, church or library), please get in touch and I’ll try my best to accommodate as many requests in the coming weeks as possible! Click here to go to my Contact page. You can also find me on Twitter (@Danielle_Author) and Facebook under my full name.

Sneak peek at the story!

Harvey the Cat: A Nearly True Story of Hurricane Harvey and the Houston Floods

Dedicated to Zen the cat, Alonso Guillen, Sgt. Steve Perez and other Harvey heroes

“There’s a bad storm coming, Devon,” Mama said one morning, “we need to get ready.”

“A tsunami wave?” (I just learned about those).

She smiled, but her mouth was tight. “A hurricane. But it’ll just feel like a really long rainstorm here. We’ll watch movies, play games, and have special snacks.”

“Do I have to go to school?”

She shook her head. I didn’t really know what a hurricane was, but it sounded kind of like a vacation. Bayou, our cat, sat and watched us with his big green-golden eyes.

Q&A with Shawn Selway for Hamilton Review of Books

I really enjoyed getting the chance to chat with Shawn Selway, author of the recent book, Nobody Here Will Harm You, about the Tuberculosis evacuations of Inuit from the Eastern Arctic.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read our full conversation over at the Hamilton Review of Books website!

Airforce Magazine “highly recommends” Polar Winds!

A lot of the podcasts and interviews I’ve listened to about writing lately have centred on the idea of a book lasting for ten years. The question to ask yourself when you embark on a book project is: ten years after it’s been published, will it still be read and be relevant? I always aspire to this, so it’s highly gratifying when – three years after Polar Winds appeared – I received this lovely review in Airforce Magazine by Dr. Richard Goette, a historian and Associate Editor-in-Chief of the publication. I know Richard through the aviation history community and I know how rigorous he is in his own research, so this means even more coming from someone I respect and admire.

“Polar Winds is an excellent synthesis of various stories, accounts, and themes regarding aviation in Canada’s North during the 20th century….Metcalfe-Chenail writes with clarity, refinement, and also with a hint of humour.”

*Apologies for the slightly blurry first image. Tried re-scanning ten times and it just didn’t want to work!

 

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.