Although Halloween is officially over, it's never too late for some spooky stories. With a continent as old as Europe, there are plenty of spooky stories in every city. If you know of any others, tell me about them in the comments below!
The Man in the Iron Mask
The Man in the Iron Mask is the name given to an individual who was arrested and imprisoned in either 1669 or 1670 in France. The identity of this man was kept a secret by an iron mask, although some claim it to be made of cloth, that covered his entire face. He would remain in prison for the rest of his life until he died in 1673. The day after he died, he was buried, his possessions were destroyed and any metal in his cell was melted down.
While in prison, the Man in the Iron Mask was mysteriously well accommodated and had specially built cells made just for him. At one point, he was also the valet for fellow inmate Nicolas Fouquet, who was imprisoned by King Louis XIV for embezzlement. It's thought since Fouquet had been imprisoned for life, he could not tell anybody the true identity of the man.
Who the Man in the Iron Mask was has been speculated for centuries. Some believe him to be King Louis XIV's secret twin brother (who would have been born last, but possibly conceived first) or the King's real father (as four previous heirs had been stillborn).
Another possibility is that it was French General Vivien de Bulonde. He had withdrawn his army fearing a siege from the Austrians, leaving ammunitions and wounded soldiers behind. King Louis XIV became furious when he heard about this and ordered de Bulonde to be arrested. He was then ordered to wear an iron mask while in prison. However, de Bulonde's arrest was well known at the time so there was no reason to keep it a secret, and he passed away six years after the Man in the Iron Mask.
Other possibilities are that the Man in the Iron Mask was the valet of Roux de Marcilly, a revolutionary who planned to overthrow the King. de Marcilly had been kidnapped and executed in Paris, and some believe his valet was imprisoned under the possibility he may go forward with the plot against the King. Others think the Man in the Iron Mask may be a government minister, an illegitimate son of Charles II of England, or an Italian diplomat named Ercole Antonio Mattioli.
A final possibility is that it could have been Eustache Dauger de Cavoye. de Cavoye stayed in the same prison as the Man in the Iron Mask and was told to wear a cloth over his head upon arrival. However, this has been disproven as de Cavoye later moved to a different prison, and would die ten years after the Man in the Iron Mask.
The Affair of the Poisons
The Affair of the Poisons was a major murder scandal in France also during the reign of King Louis XIV between the years of 1677 and 1682. The scandal began with the arrest of Magdelaine de La Grange, a fortune teller. As a fortune teller, de La Grange would tell people who had fallen ill they had been poisoned, and offer them an antidote. To delay her execution, she claimed to know important information about future poisonings that the king should know of. Once hearing about the poisonings, King Louis XIV had the authorities round-up additional fortune tellers and chemists to learn who had been buying and selling the poisons.
One of these fortune tellers was Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin, who went by the name La Voisin. She claimed to have sold the poison to the King's mistress, Athénaïs de Montespan, of whom the king had seven children with. Many believed de Montespan planned to use the poison had the King showed interest in another woman. de Montespan lived through the affair, but La Voisin was declared a witch and burned at the stake.
Another involved in the scandal was Eustache Dauger de Cavoye, one of the persons who may have been The Man in the Iron Mask.
The Affair would lead to the reestablishment of the Chambre Ardente, or "burning court", where heretics were burned by torchlight in public places. In total there were 442 suspects, in which 367 were arrested. Of those, 36 people were executed by burning, 5 were sentenced to the gallows, and 23 were exiled.
Some theorize that La Voisin's lineage would continue and lead to the birth of Marie-Josephte Corriveau. Corriveau would terrorize Quebec City during the mid-1700s after killing her two husbands. She was sentenced to hang and her body put on display in a cage. Following her death, citizens complained of hearing screaming and banging coming from her cage during the night. Her cage was eventually taken down and buried – only to vanish and resurface in Salem, Massachusetts years later.
The Death of Grigori Rasputin
If you've seen the 1997 movie Anastasia or heard the 1978 Boney M. song, you know the name "Rasputin". Grigori Rasputin was a Russian mystic who cured Alexei Nikolaevich, the heir to the Russian thrown, of his severe hemophilia B in 1907. Hemophilia B causes easy bruising and frequent bleeding, something many royalties suffered from. Believing him to be a healer, the Empress of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, welcomed Rasputin into the family's inner circle.
Russia was facing extreme problems during this time period, with the Russo-Japanese War, the Revolution of 1905 and Bloody Sunday, which left between 132 to 4,000 people dead. Rasputin offered the Empress a light of hope during these events, and spent much time with Princess Milica and Anastaia when their father couldn't. He would also teach them about spiritualism and the occult, a connection movie fans might remember from the movie.
One of Rasputin's enemies, Felix Yusupov, believed Rasputin had secretly drugged Alexei and then "cured" him to win the favor of the royal family. Sensing Rasputin was up to no good, Yusupov put together a plan to kill him. He invited Rasputin to Moika Palace, his house of residence, and fed him tea and sweets laced with cyanide. Several other conspirators were also present.
After an hour of drinking and the cyanide not taking effect, Yusupov frustratingly went upstairs, retrieved one of the conspirator's guns, returned and shot Rasputin close range in the chest. Rasputin fell to the floor and died, so the conspirators left the room. A few minutes later they heard commotion and returned to find Rasputin alive and trying to escape. In panic one conspirator, Vladimir Purishkevich, fired four more shots, only hitting Rasputin once through his kidney and into his spine. However, Rasputin still got outside before collapsing into the snow. The conspirators then surrounded Rasputin and shot him once more in the head. They then took the body back inside, wrapped it in broadcloth and threw it into Malaya Nevka River. The body would end up getting caught between the pylons of a bridge and was prevented from drifting out to sea.
Rasputin's body would be discovered two days later, with his arms and fists clenched into the air. Some believe this was because Rasputin tried to escape the broadcloth after being thrown into the river, but an autopsy report determined the shot to the head is what killed him. Instead, it is speculated that the twine the conspirators wrapped him in had snapped from the icy cold water, and his arms and fists became raised when rigamortis set in. Rasputin would be buried near Chesmensky Almshouse on December 30th, 1916.
Three months later, Russia was barreling towards the Russian Revolution and the country was in a state of chaos. It was during this time that Rasputin's grave was discovered by vandals, as its location was kept a secret. The coffin was dug up and brought to town hall. There it was reopened, repackaged inside an old piano case and driven out of Petrograd. Stories differ at this point, with some witnesses claiming they took the body to Saint Petersburg State Technical University where it was cremated. Other accounts say that on the way to the university the truck broke down and the body was forced to be burned in a field. It is here that Rasputin's body began to move. Witnesses claim he sat up while being burned, smiled at the vandals, and then laid back down into the fire to finally die.
Some believe that, in death, Rasputin cursed the Russian royal family for their betrayal. That curse would lead to the family being murdered by the Bolshevik government in 1917 -- except for Anastasia, who apparently escaped. This would then set the scene for a very highly underrated movie:
The Golem of Prague
Like the story of God making Adam and Eve from clay, there are stories of Jewish rabbis creating imperfect clay beings called "golems", which they alone can control. These beings are immortal, until the master destroys them, and have been the subject of legends for centuries.
One of the most popular stories of a golem occurred in Prague during the 16th Century. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel created a golem to protect his community from anti-Semitic attacks and named it Josef, or Yossele. Yossele had the ability to protect the community by becoming invisible and by summoning spirits from the dead. The only requirement Rabbi Loew needed was to deactivate the golem prior to the Sabbath, which is Friday sunset to Saturday sunset in Judaism.
The story goes that one Sabbath Rabbi Loew forgot to deactivate Yossele, and the golem fell in love with a young woman, only to have his heart broken. Turning this newly discovered pain into rage, Yossele became violent and went on a murderous rampage. Rabbi Loew finally stopped the golem, causing it to fall to pieces in front of the Old New Synagogue in Prague. The rabbi then stored the body in the attic of the synagogue until they needed it for later. Several rabbis would enter the attic over the next few centuries to watch over the body, and each would record their own accounts of feeling extremely frightened. These accounts would continue as late as the early 20th Century.
In 1883 the attic of the synagogue was renovated, but no body was discovered. Another story has emerged that, upon hearing about the golem, several Nazi soldiers entered the attic to destroy it, only to be killed themselves. A film crew ventured into the attic in 1984 to find evidence of either story, but discovered nothing. The attic has not been visited by the public since.
The Nazi Time Machine
As the Allies closed in on Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler proposed he had a weapon that could change the outcome of the war. That something was the German wunderwaffe Die Glocke, or The Bell. What this weapon did or how it operated is a question of mystery. Documents found after the war describe it as a rotating bell, powered by a "violet liquid". When it was activated, the bell would float and anything within 150 to 200 meters of it would begin to decay. The documents claim "crystals would form in animal tissue, blood would gel & separate while plants would decompose into a grease like substance." The documents say five of the original seven scientists would die during the tests.
These experiments were said to have been done at a concrete framework named "The Henge", three kilometers from Project Riese, in the Owl Mountains in what is now Poland.
Although many have looked for the machine, it appeared to have vanished before the war was complete. Some believe it now resides in a South American country, while others believe it was taken by the US military before the war ended. Others still claim it was recovered during the Kecksburg UFO incident of 1965, when a massive fireball flew over Canada and the United States, only to crash in Pennsylvania.
German scientist Otto Cerny said, in 1961, that a mirror above the bell would reflect "images of the past" if you peered into it. This has many to believe it was a time machine, and it's possible it traveled to a different time period before the war ended. Conspiracy theorists think Die Glocke was Hitler's final weapon to go back in time and restart World War II, with advanced knowledge of how it would play out. Another possibility is that Die Glocke is what exploded over the skies of Tunguska in 1908, an explosion that was 300 times larger than the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Scientists say had whatever exploded over Tunguska arrived 4 hours and 47 minutes earlier; it would have destroyed St. Petersburg prior to the Russian Revolution, and possibly changed the outcome of World War I. Had this happened, it may have prevented the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and Germany's economy wouldn't have been crippled.
Europe is full of interesting and exciting stories, from mysterious iron masked prisoners to witches, to mystics and golems and Nazis. Do you know of any other spooky stories? Let me know about them in the comments below!
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
As this was my first time flying a kite, I'm proud to say I only crashed it about thirty times. Thankfully, my instructor said, the kite wasn't too expensive and was made for crash landings. After one particular sharp nose-dive, however, he came over to show me what I was doing wrong. After a few minor adjustments, I kicked the kite back into the air and managed to do my first loop.
The field we were in was empty that day. Within 24 hours, however, the field would be full of kite enthusiasts from across the world. Many of the kite flyers were from Canada and the United States, but some even came as far away as London, Germany and New Zealand. At only 13 years old, the SaskPower Windscape Kite Festival has become internationally renowned to kite flyers around the world.
When people think of kites, they might think of the classic diamond shaped kite of Charlie Brown. However, these days there are many different kinds of kites, and each with their own unique design and purpose.
The Island of the Dolls is in Xochimilco, a borough south of Mexico City. While it would be faster to take a car from Mexico City to Xochimilco, the traffic is dense and the roads are very congested. Instead, if you're going there, I'd recommend taking metro, which is easy and the cheapest in the world. What you gain in comfort, however, you lose in speed, as the train ride takes about 2 hours.
Mexico City and Xochimilco both sit in the Valley of Mexico. Until about a millennium ago, the whole region around Mexico City was surrounded by a massive body of water. Over the centuries due to both climate change and interference by humans, most of this water has dried up, for the exception of Xochimilco. With networks of canals crisscrossing the borough, car transportation is difficult and water transportation is essential. I'm sure there were motorized boats somewhere in the waters of Xochimilco, but I never saw any. Instead, canoes and rafts are common on the water. However, the most popular vessel is a trajinera – a colourful gonadal-like boat that is pushed along the water with a wooden pole.
Xochimilco is known worldwide for their Floating Gardens market, which are essentially canoes floating down the canals, selling wares to tourists on trajineras. These include things like food, drinks, silver rings, trinkets, ponchos and sombreros. Occasionally other trajineras full of Mariachi bands will approach tourists and offer to play beside them on the water.
Love poutine, Justin Trudeau and just about everything Québécois? G Adventures had the right idea including Montréal in two of their Canadian tours, but Montréal isn't the only noteworthy place to visit in Québec. Now, this tour doesn't give Québec the justice it deserves either, but hopefully it inspires you to take your time to explore the wonders it has to offer. Québec is a beautiful province with a long history, stretching back over four centuries, so this tour is dedicated to the incredible history and culture of French Canada.
Our fictional tour starts in Montréal. If you've read my Five Historic Canadian Cities article last week, you already know Montréal is one of Canada's most lively cities. Packed with some of Canada's most impressive scientific museums, Montréal is also home to an archeological and historical museum, Pointe-à-Callière. Inside one of the most unique buildings in Old Montréal, this museum ventures deep into the history of the city and explores its foundation, its struggles and its changes. With 375 years of history, to uncover this museum starts off with the discovery of Hochelaga and showcases various sections of the original sewer system. The museum also has several illustrations showing the plagues and fires that once decimated the early city. The museum also has an interactive section about the pirates that once terrorized the St. Lawrence River. This museum is one of my absolute favorites, so if you love museums as much as I, you'll want to check it out.