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: 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!

Two Upcoming Camsell Hospital Events in Edmonton

 
As part of the upcoming Reconciliation Week and in support of ongoing truth and reconciliation work in our city, RISE is please to be hosting two upcoming events related to the history and memory of the Charles Camsell Hospital. Both events are free and everyone is welcome. Donations will be accepted at the door and online to make the events possible.
Connecting to Camsell – Screening & Discussion
Tuesday, May 30 from 6-8PM at the River Cree Resort & Casino
What do you know about the Charles Camsell Hospital?
Learn more about the layered history from a segregated Indian hospital to a present-day housing development through a series of short films and a panel discussion.
Featuring:
“The Longer Trail” (1956, National Film Board of Canada)
“Lost Songs” (1999, National Film Board of Canada)
“Camsell” (2016, Edmonton Heritage Council)
The screenings will be followed by a panel discussion including former patients, local researchers and community members.Free event, everyone welcome. Please RSVP.
Donations gladly accepted at the door.
Sponsored by: Enoch Cree Nation Archives, River Cree Resort & Casino, City of Edmonton, and Edmonton Heritage Council.
 
 
Connecting to Camsell – Story Collection
Thursday, June 8 from 11AM-4PM at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, Enoch Cree Nation
 
What do you remember about the Charles Camsell Hospital?
Come to a safe community space to share your experiences, recollections, photographs, documents, and art and craft items from the Camsell Hospital.
Members of RISE and staff from the Enoch Cree Nation Archives will help collect information to catalogue for the archives so that others can learn about this important past.
 
Lunch and other refreshments served.
Free drop-in event, everyone welcome.
Donations gladly accepted at the door.
Sponsored by: Enoch Cree Nation Archives, City of Edmonton, and Edmonton Heritage Council.
 
RISE – Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton
Subscribe to our newsletter: http://eepurl.com/brmTiT
Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RISEdmonton
Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/RISEdmonton

“The Job for Me” for Legion Magazine now up!

“Whiplash is how they described it. In 1980, when captains Nora Bottomley, Deanna (Dee) Brasseur and Leah Mosher walked anywhere in their Canadian air force blue flight suits, heads snapped around. The three women were the first in the country to receive their wings for active duty, and they knew they were under the microscope from their fellow pilots, superiors, the media and Canadian society. As Major Brasseur said later of that time, ‘If one of us burped, Ottawa knew.'” Read the whole article by clicking here.

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Houston Talk: “Writing Stories of Humiliation and Hope”

If you live in and around Houston, I invite you to come to this free talk through The Final Twist Writers Society on Saturday, January 7, 2017!

“Writing Stories of Humiliation and Hope”

January 3, 2017 is Humiliation Day and is observed worldwide on the same day each year. Humiliation Day is thought to be originated from a reaction by the Chinese immigrants to the Chinese Exclusion Act in Canada in 1923. Humiliation can be at any level — individual, a class of people, a race, a nation, etc. And its best remedy is reconciliation.

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, the editor of In This Together— Fifteen Stories of Truth & Reconciliation (Brindle &Glass), will talk about her professional experience. In this engaging presentation, she will discuss her interest in social justice and how things like Humiliation Day have prodded her to look deeper into Canada’s history through picture books, novels, nonfiction publications, radio, and short films.

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail specializes in telling hidden stories. A historian by training, she is the author of For the Love of Flying (Robin Brass Studio), Polar Winds (Dundurn), and the forthcoming Alis the Aviator (Tundra Books).

She is the former Writer in Residence at Berton House in the Yukon, and the Historian Laureate of Edmonton (Canada). When Danielle is not spending quality time with her four-year-old son and traveling, she is working on a WW2-era novel, Sky Girl, and a creative nonfiction project based on her popular http://www.ghostofcamsell.ca serial blog

 

They meet at the Spring Branch Memorial Library in the room off the front entryway, to the right of the restrooms.

10:00 – 10:30 am (Networking)
10:30 – 11:00 am (Chapter Business)
11:00 am to 12:00 pm (Guest Speaker or Round Table)

Community Blooms through Love Thy Neighbor Initiative

15259498_10153861126245194_3213217001454732711_oLigi Varghese and her 3 year-old daughter clutched bunches of roses in front of the Maryam Islamic Center outside Houston, Texas before Friday prayers on December 2. They, along with a dozen or so community members of various faiths and backgrounds passed out more than 400 flowers to worshippers as they arrived at the mosque.

The attendees alternatively smiled or looked surprised as individuals of the grassroots Love Thy Neighbor initiative handed out single stems along with messages of love and support. Several people held up handwritten signs with statements such as “Houston Loves You.”

15235646_10153861233845194_1190003634274050853_oVarghese, who identifies as an Indian-American Christian, felt spurred to act after she saw a rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes in the media. She reached out to her friend Naheeda Spencer who attends the Maryam Islamic Center in Sugar Land with her family, to see if it would be possible to come out in a show of solidarity with the Fort Bend Muslim community. Imam Taquer Shah welcomed the idea.

Every Friday, hundreds of Muslims in the community – with very diverse backgrounds – come for prayers, and Varghese wanted to give a flower to each person as a symbol of unity. She was supported in this effort by private donors as well as Trader Joe’s, who supplied the long stem roses.

After being invited inside the beautiful mosque for prayers, volunteers and faithful alike listened to Varghese read a statement she had prepared. “We are all so much more similar than we are different,” she said. “We have to start getting to know each other.” This initiative was meant to do that – create awareness in the non-Muslim community, build trust, and forge relationships.

15235784_10153861233990194_3439498266227919922_oThe Maryam Islamic Center, for its part, has been doing community outreach since it was built in 2009, and even before then when it operated out of a trailer further up Sartartia Road. It offers public events such as a carnival annually, coordinates interfaith activities with area churches, and often does fundraising or volunteering for area nonprofits such as the Houston Food Bank.

Deputy John McCoy, one of several Fort Bend County Constables who direct traffic each week as well as during special events has seen this first-hand. “The mosque offers so much and these folks are really part of the community,” he said.

15288677_10153861233835194_3764588772864256438_oEven so, several attendees shared stories of how their children and teenagers have been targeted in school for being Muslim. This is something that troubles Varghese, a mother of a new baby and a preschooler, in particular. “Children aren’t born with hatred. Someone taught them to hate, and never taught them what it was to love.”

This initiative, along with increased connections between mosques and schools, Boy Scout troops, and other organizations are helping to break down these barriers and foster understanding. Varghese hopes small gestures like a flower will show a commitment from other Americans to stand by Muslims in the face of bigotry.

As volunteers cleaned up rose petals outside and carried the food the Maryam Islamic Center gave them, a man in his thirties stopped to shake hands. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “This is what America is all about.”

 

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The Charles Camsell Indian Hospital: From Haunting to Understanding

I was walking around my new neighbourhood here in Houston, Texas, and all the pumpkins, witches and ghosts decorating homes got me thinking about the Charles Camsell Hospital and how far we’ve come.

In 2014, when I first started researching the Camsell in earnest, most news stories and internet hits talked about its status as a haunted building. There were “Top 10 Edmonton Haunted Sites” lists and shivery stories about breaking in after dark. But, as I’ve been learning, urban legends keep knowledge shallow. They keep us from looking into the complex nature of places and experiences, and the roles we play in them.

To read the full post on my Ghosts of Camsell site, please go to http://wp.me/p5S7BR-5n

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A Celebration and Transformation

p1040234When I decided to throw a party to launch my new book in the US, I wondered the best way to do it. While traditional book launches are lovely, this book has been all about creating community, having tricky discussions, and seeing each other through new eyes. I wanted my young son to be able to enjoy the party. I wanted my new friends here in the Houston area to gather, bring their families, and meet each other.

p1040255So I threw a ‘book birthday party’ that Namita Asthana at Off the Vine Bistro generously offered to host. About thirty of us got together to drink her delicious pumpkin-spice punch, eat her home-made French macarons, and chat while the kids drew on poster board with crayons and glitter paint what it looks like to work together and to listen. My new friend, Catherine, of Sienna Plantation Face Painting, brought her kit and her creativity to show us how we can all make small steps to transform ourselves.

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The kids are already ahead of us on this. The ones who came were mostly in the four to six year old range, and have pretty good ideas about what’s fair and what’s not in the world. But they’re still elastic enough in their thinking to adopt new ways of doing things if the old ones aren’t working. They’re able to ask tough questions because they really want to know – they’re just so curious. They don’t realize adults might find the questions awkward or embarrassing (albeit necessary). They know they can expand their experiences by pretending to be a rainbow leopard or Spiderman, or anyone or anything else.

Wouldn’t it be great if we adults were that playful and open? Willing to walk in the shoes of someone else?

p1040269That’s the heart of this book. To see through someone else’s eyes, walk in their shoes, and imagine what life might be like if you were born in a different time, place and body.

 

p1040246Thanks to everyone who came from the Houston Writer’s Guild and the local chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. And thanks to my amazing husband and son who have supported me in this work and celebrated along side of me.

If you live in the Houston area and would like to buy a copy of the book, please contact Brazos Bookstore or your local Barnes & Noble. Hopefully they’ll have some in stock soon, or can easily order them in. And, of course, you can get them through your favourite online retailer. You can also request that your local library bring in a copy. All you’ll need is the basic book information found by clicking here.

p1040268And if you belong to a book club, church group, school or conversation circle and you’d like to buy copies for your members and have me come and speak, please get in touch through this website. I’ll help you figure out how we can make that happen!

 

 

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Time To Celebrate – and Work – Together Stateside!

12322475_895983110470947_683162362249974662_oI am beyond thrilled with how much In This Together has connected with readers, teachers, reconciliation advocates, and politicians in Canada. Since it launched in April, it has become a regional as well as National Post bestseller and has gone to a second printing. And every week I hear from someone by email, on Twitter, on Facebook and beyond about how one – or more – of the stories really spoke to their experiences or blew their mind (in a good way).

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is obviously a Canadian entity. The journey and relationships this book speaks to are largely Canadian, as are the voices. But at least one of the authors talks about her European heritage, her work in New Zealand, and minority Indigenous language issues. Another author lives and works in New York City. Yet another speaks about his cross-border travels to Indigenous gatherings and protests, showing how the Medicine Line (49th parallel) is really just a geo-political construct.

So I am ready to launch In This Together in the US, where I now live, and I hope it connects with people here too. Not just around our often shared histories of colonization, residential schools, good intentions, and broken treaty promises. But around our struggles today to deal with systemic racism and discrimination. Because that’s what is at the heart of this collection, these fifteen personal stories and ‘aha moments’. And here in the US, where we’re faced almost daily with an innocent black man being killed by police, or by police (of many different ethnicities) being targeted in retribution, we need these kinds of stories. We need to look deep into our histories, systems, and own hearts to see how we can move forward with empathy and understanding. How we really are all in this together.

If you’re in the Houston area, I hope you’ll come out to our book birthday party on Saturday, October 15 from 3-5pm at Off the Vine Bistro (2685 Dulles Avenue in Missouri City) to have some punch, snacks (including Indigenous-East Indian fusion bannock), and fun with other folks. We are also lucky to have artist Catherine Gauche Visagie doing exquisite face painting for all ages with the theme of “seeing with new eyes”. Please RSVP directly with me through this site or through my Facebook event page.

If you’re an author, academic or activist elsewhere and you’d like to set up a panel discussion, please get in touch through the contact page. If you’re a book club, church group, nonprofit or school, please ask me how you can get books in bulk at a discount – I would love to come and chat with your group either in person or via Skype!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.