Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Singing Glasses of Andersonville

The singing glasses from the Museum of Paranormal Oddities have a strange and unusual means of creating sounds that enhance EVP. 
These antique glasses where picked up at an antiques store located in the village of Andersonville in Georgia. Andersonville's Civil War village has been preserved to show visitors how people would have lived during the days of the American Civil War, but behind this picturesque southern town, there exists a historical location so steeped in tragedy and atrocity, it's become known as one of Georgia's most haunted locations.

The Camp Sumter Military Prison (also known as " the Andersonville prion") was one of the South’s most horrific Civil War prison camps. Soldiers that were kept at Andersonville suffered poor treatment, neglect, starvation and disease. At the helm of this death camp was a man named Henry Wirz. Wirz was born in Switzerland in 1822 and came to America in 1849 to settle in New York before relocating to Louisiana with the hopes of continuing his work as a homeopathic physician.

After 1857, Wirz joined the 4th Louisiana Battalion. His time in service eventually put him into the southern prison system as a commander and he developed an infamous reputation as a hardened and cruel warden. In the winter of 1854 he received orders to go to Georgia. On March 27, 1864, he was given formal command of the stockade at the Camp Sumter Military Prison.

He was considered by many prisoners to be “the devil”, which they frequently referred to him. His attitudes towards prisoners varied from day to day, but this may have been a direct result of his lack of authority in the prison system. Higher ranking officers, frequently denied his request for medical treatment, food and provisions. Subsequently, Captain Wirz was a product of this environment and no one suffered more because of it than the prisoners he was in charge of.

Captain Henry Wirz was frequently called "the devil" by inmates at the Civil War prisons he was in charge of.  
Henry Wirz was tried for war crimes in the spring of 1865. He was found guilty, even though both sides of the law attempted to defend him, stating, “He was just following orders”. His case was a national sensation, and many of his Confederate supporters considered him a martyr. Wirz was hanged on November 10, 1865 and buried at the Mount Olive Cemetery in Washington D.C.

The hanging execution of Captain Henry Wirz.

Captain Wirz’s spirit is just one of many who allegedly haunt the Andersonville Civil War Camp and Cemetery. Though his ghost is seen quite often in the stockade, especially on the mock towers where guards would have kept watch, other ghosts roam the hallowed grounds at the cemetery, looking for innocent victims or perhaps, justification for their unusual burials.

By 1864, the growing number of prisoners at the military prison caused the population to explode to double the capacity. Disease was everywhere, starvation turned the men to mere skeletons, and neglect by the prison staff meant life at this prison camp came with a death sentence. This caused the prisoners to resort to violence and crime as a means of survival. As a result, authorities at the camp organized a small band of military police, known as “regulators”. They were given an order to round up the renegades and hold them in a separate area, outside the camp. Some of the inmates were charged with theft and petty offenses, but a few resorted to more dramatic crimes, including murder. This made conditions at the camp even more dangerous and eventually the populations of these syndicated groups of prisoners resulted in the capture of 75-150 men.

The skeleton soldiers of the Camp Sumter Military Prison in Andersonville, Georgia.
These criminal groups of men were called “raiders”. As punishment for their behavior, the prisoners were court marshaled, and tried within the camp itself by commanding officers. Some were released back into the prison. However, they received a rather cruel punishment called “the gauntlet”. The gauntlet was made of two rows of prisoners, armed with clubs and sticks. When inmates were released back into the prison, they were forced to run through the rows of men, as they fiercely and repeatedly beat them. At least one inmate’s death was the result of running the gauntlet.

In July 1864, the most notorious of the Raiders were gathered and brought to the gallows by Captain Wirz himself. They were hanged as an example to other prisoners. During the execution, a Catholic priest, Father Peter Whelan, begged for the lives of the Raiders. Wirz told him that it was not in his power to prevent the execution. The execution was carried out and the men were buried separately, away from the honorable dead at the Camp Sumter Cemetery.

Today, the raider’s tombs are easily spotted among the mass graves and they undoubtedly still roam the cemetery, looking for vindication or a helpless victim to assault. Over the years, the kind and gentle spirit of Father Whelan has also been a regular visitor to Andersonville. It’s said that he stays at Andersonville to keep watch over the thousands of unrested souls that reside there.

Andersonville prison was a death camp, a camp of immoral and unadulterated travesty. It saw the death of over 13,000 men, more than any other camp during the Civil War. The ghosts at Andersonville are many and they are attached to many parts of the property, including the small village located just a few hundred feet from the prison.

The glasses acquired from the antiques store in Andersonville have been part of some strange occurrences that spans the better part of fifty years. When I purchased the items in 1995, the store owner informed me that there was nothing really special or extremely valuable about the glasses, but they are antique and part of a mass production of decorative glasses produced some time in the 1950’s. He mentioned they came from a family who lived in the region and they had ties to the Andersonville prison. According to store owner, they were descendants of a former inmate who was held at the Camp Sumter Military Prison. When I made contact with the family, they confirmed the story and I was able to see documents and childhood photos of the Boston born man who was kept at the camp for over a year. I will add, the part of his diary from his time as the camp was heartbreaking.

After a few months, another member of the family contacted me and agreed to break his silence regarding a possible family haunting. As one of the former owners of the glasses, he wanted to tell me the reason why he got rid of the items, and how it affected him and his family. During our phone call, he explained that the glasses had once been part of a set of six - all identical. They were a gift to his wife from one of her aunts. For a time, the family used the glasses and they would often bring them out when guests arrived or during holiday parties at their home. During one holiday gathering, a small child who attended the party with her parents came to her father and said she saw a man in the house that scared her. She reportedly started to cry when she was asked to identify the man and said, “His face is scary, and he is burning”. Obviously baffled by the child’s description, the family just thought it was the normal over imaginative nature of small children seeking attention.

Later that evening, after all the guests had left, the family was cleaning up the party mess and noticed one of the glasses from the set was missing. They searched the house and could not find it. Years and years passed and the glasses, one by one, began to disappear, mysteriously vanishing during Christmas parties. In 1994, the set of glasses had dwindled down to only two. Because they were no longer a complete set, the owner sold them to the antiques store.

The following year, during the annual Christmas party, the families gathered and celebrated together as usual. Like always, after everyone had gone, they began to clean up. Only this time, they found something they had not expected and something that would cause them to question the missing glasses and the “scary man” the young girl had seen years before.

In the basement of this Sumter County home, the man was looking through some boxes that were used to store Christmas decorations. He noticed that one had a hole in it, so he looked around for another to take upstairs. He noticed a small stone paver in the floor that seemed to be loose. He moved it with his foot to see if it would shift and in doing so, he saw something underneath. When he kneeled down and removed the stone paver, he could see a small leather strap protruding from a sandy hole. As he dug deeper, he found that the strap was attached to a small wooden truck. The trunk was about 1x2 feet in length and much of the wooden exterior was still intact. There was a small key latch on the front, but in his excitement and eagerness to open the treasure, he busted the lock and looked inside. He found a soft cotton cloth with something wrapped inside it. As he removed the cloth, he discovered the four missing glasses and other items he’d never seen before. Underneath the glasses was an assortment of metals and Civil War era post cards addressed to his distant relative who was held captive at the camp.

Beneath the letters and cloth he also discovered a small leather frame with a photo inside. The photo was of his relative after he returned from Camp Sumter to Boston, in the preserved photo, the scared face of the man is visible as well as some other injuries he suffered during his time at the camp. As he sifted through the items he remembered what the young girl told him years ago regarding the “scary man”. He had not spoken about this event until my purchase of the glasses. Even today, he has no idea how the glasses got inside the buried trunk he found in his basement or who buried the trunk in the cellar floor.

Since the arrival of the glasses to the Museum, they’ve been used in a number of tests and perhaps the most unusual is the singing glass test. By filling the glasses up with small or large amounts of water, and lightly circling your finger around the rim of the glass, a sound frequency is created that not only generate tones, it also seems to release energy that may be trapped inside the glass, creating a kind of Ouija board effect that generates EVP when recorded.

To date, the singing glasses of Andersonville, have generated several EVP’s that may pertain to the family who owned them. Some of the recordings even sound like a party, possibly trapping the audio information like a tape recorder. Other recordings have picked up single words in response to questions and the baritone voice of a man who only gives his name as, “Bob”. The glasses are made of glass and crystal with gold filigree and red rhinestones. The antiques dealers who sold them to me said they were “nothing special” but I’d beg to differ, these glasses appear to be very special. 

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