Written by Peet Banks
The History and Haunts of the Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome
In August 2016 I was fortunate enough to visit Europe – with Italy being on the agenda. Accompanied by my sister, there were so many places on our ‘to do’ list, Pompeii, Naples, the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica, and of course the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
Our journey through Italy is a whole other story – one fraught with laughs and near misses (for those who have been – you know what I mean when I say ‘Italian Drivers’), and I loved every second of my time there, and especially when I discovered ‘the surprise’.
During our whole time in Rome (about five days), I kept seeing this magnificent, round castle, sitting in a prominent position on the skyline. I had no idea what it was, and didn’t even know that there was an old castle in the middle of Rome. I had heard of all the other tourist destinations of course, except this!
The building, with its round edges, and its striking statue of an angel sitting right on the very top of it, kept calling to me.
One night my sister and went on the Dark Rome Ghost Tour. I say ‘night’, because it was 8pm, but in all honesty it was still daylight, which was a little disconcerting for a ghost tour. We met on the steps of an ancient church, not far from the Pantheon, and began our walking tour of the streets of Rome, the night sky obliging by darkening as we went.
The tour was amazing! A little too theatrical for my taste, but incredibly informative and full of some great stories! It ended at the Castel Sant’Angelo – the amazing castle I had been seeing in the days prior.
“Finally” I thought. “Finally I get to find out about this place and go inside!”
Alas it was not to be. The tour concluded on the bridge, with a ghost story of a girl who had been tortured in the Castle, walking across the bridge, holding her head in her hands. The story goes that only men of bad character can see her, so if you are able to see her, go and rethink your morals!
As the people on the ghost tour dispersed, my sister and I made our way to the entrance. It was after 11pm by this stage, and the gates were still open. We spoke to a lovely attendee on the gate, who advised us that the castle closed at midnight. Looking at the size of it we reluctantly decided that it wasn’t to be, and headed back to our hotel.
A few nights later, our last evening in Rome in fact, we discovered that our plans had changed. We were hoping to do the Underground Crypts, but they were booked out (always prebook where possible in Rome), so we had nothing to do. And then it came to us…. LET’S GO TO CASTEL SANT’ANGELO.
I have to say that in all of my 41 years I have wanted to visit Italy. In my mind, I have always wanted to walk around the Colosseum, visit the ruins at Pompeii, marvel at the Sistine Chapel and talk behind my hand about the wealth of the Vatican – but of all the places I visited in Rome, the Castel Sant’Angelo was BY FAR the best. This place is an investigator’s DREAM.
A bit of history about the castle…
Castel Sant’Angelo was initially built as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian (he of the famed Hadrian’s Wall in the UK). So to begin with, like so much in Rome, it is old. Really old. It is estimated to have been built around 123AD.
In its long life it has been a funeral castle, a prison, a papal residence in renaissance times and a museum. It was Rome’s most fortified area, and believed that those who held it had the whole town at their mercy.
Legend says that when the plague ravaged Rome in 590, St Michael appeared on the top of the fortification, heralding the end of the plague. This encouraged artist Raffaello da Montelup, in 1536, to create a marble statue of St Michael, brandishing his sword after the plague. Raffaello’s statue was replaced with a similar one in 1753, and that is the statue that calls out to you as you slowly wind your way up to the roof of the castle.
Pope Nicholas III was responsible for building the Passetto di Borgo (or Roman corridor). It is a wall with a passage inside it up the top, which leads from the Vatican Walls to the Castel Sant’Angelo. It was built so the head of the Church could take refuge in the castle in times of need. It happened! Pope Alexander VI (or Rodrigo Borgia as he was also known) used the passage to lock himself into the Castle when Rome was invaded by Charles VIII of France in 1494.
Pope Clement VII (Giulio de Medici) also used the passage in 1527 during the ‘sacking of Rome’ which was carried out by mercenaries.
The building holds the National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo, which is fascinating! There are rooms recreated to look as they would’ve in days gone by. There are statues and hidden doorways all throughout the building. We spent hours there, and I’m sure we really only just scratched the surface.
The night we explored the castle, it was virtually empty. I would guess that perhaps there were about 15 people wandering around its vast hallways and staircases. The structure is massive, and you have complete freedom of access to much of it. It only cost us 10 euro to enter, and we could have stayed for hours and hours. In summer months it is open until Midnight, so all those who are visiting Rome – get yourself there! You can’t miss it! On the upper levels there is also a café/restaurant with tables seated along the battlements, facing St Peter’s Basilica.
As we were virtually alone we did conduct a few vigils. I was so adrenaline pumped at being there, surprised by the fact that I had never heard of it, and amazed at how wonderful it was that I didn’t fully concentrate on the investigation side of things. I was too busy staring around me in starry eyed wonder. My sister though… she was petrified! She did not want me to leave her alone. She wanted to walk up the stairways ahead of me because she felt like there was someone behind her, and she was absolutely on edge and kept expecting to see people walking through doorways that were firmly shut and calling out to her. I had never seen her quite that on edge, so I take that to be a good sign of spirit activity!
It would be a dream come true to return to the Castel Sant’Angelo with my full case of equipment, lock me in for the night and investigate! I know that there are so many stories those walls want to tell, and I look forward to the day I return.
Some more photos from Peet's visit to Castel Sant'Angelo
Written by Peet Banks
You can’t call yourself a paranormal investigator, and not have heard of Bobby Mackey’s Music World! It is up there as American’s ‘Most Haunted’ night club. Located on the banks of the Licking River, in Wilder, Kentucky the venue itself has a very colourful, and highly publicised history full of gambling, violence, music, prohibition and all kinds of ghosts, spirits, demons and portals to hell!
It is said that in the early 19th century, the area was originally used as a slaughterhouse. Following this it was a roadhouse with various different names One of the stories attached to the venue is that two men, who are said to still haunt the building, murdered a young, pregnant lady named Pearl Bryan. They held a satanic ritual which involved decapitating her and throwing her head down a well. Years later this well was uncovered by the caretaker, and it is said that when he opened it, he claimed to be possessed by the evil entity he had unwittingly released.
The basement of the venue is another extremely haunted area. It was where the dressing rooms used to be for the performers. A story told is that in the 1940’s there was a dancer named Johanna who fell in love with a man her father did not approve of. Her father was a gangsta, and he and his fellow criminals ‘got rid’ of the suitor. Johanna, in her grief, ingested poison in the dressing room. All of this was recorded in a diary which the caretaker also claimed to find.
Bobby Mackey himself has never experienced anything paranormal at the venue, but hundreds of others have, including his late wife Janet. She was allegedly attacked by an invisible entity. Others claim to have been thrown across the room, seen full bodied apparitions and shadow figures, heard disembodied voices, and, of course, Zak Bagan’s belief that he was possessed by a demonic force there.
Over the years it has been said that there are over 40 different spirits who inhabit the site, including a particularly dark entity who is dangerous to women.
Author Douglas Hensley spent five years researching the background of the nightclub, the land it is located on, and the sordid history dating back to the 1800s. “Hell’s Gate: Terry at Bobby mackey’s Music World” contains 29 sworn and signed affidavits from club employees, patrons, Wilder Policeman and more, attesting to the paranormal happenings at this den of iniquity.
Their official website states “Come for the ghosts, stay for the music!” – well okay then!
Written by Peet Banks
The beautiful Hydro Majestic Hotel can be seen atop a breathtaking ridge near Katoomba in Australia’s Blue Mountains.
It was built by a captain of industry, Mark Foy, a retailing magnate who owned the biggest department store in Australia. Mark was very wealthy, and very well-travelled. He was a big fan of ‘the water cure’ – a craze around the world where the rich and famous would spend copious amounts of money at Hydropathic Health Retreats. Mark’s favourite was Smedley’s Hydro in Derbyshire England. Smedley’s was a beautiful Victorian sanatorium surrounded by beautiful acreage. Mark often spoke of the lack of such a Hydro in Australia. Mark started scouting for locations in the idyllic Blue Mountains, and eventually purchased three adjacent properties in Medlow; the Belgravia Hotel, a small cottage that was home to local solicitor Alfred Tucker, and a beautiful estate owned by William Henry Hargraves, a government official and Deputy Registrar of the Equity Court. Using stunning architectural designs, Mark joined these three buildings together with long galleries, over 90 metres in length, making the structure form a linear design. Upon completion, the hotel measured 366 metres of beautiful, richly carpeted luxury. The entire building was heated and powered by a boiler from an exhibition building built in 1879 which did not succeed as it was hoped. The final touch on the hotel was the inclusion of stunningly ornate Italianate Balustrading so guests could immerse themselves in the panoramic view. In 1903 Mark somehow managed to have the name of the suburb, Medlow, altered to Medlow Bath, in order to attract clientele. The Medlow Bath Hydropathic Establishment was a totally immersive affair, with detailed expensive furniture, artwork and every mod-con known at the time. He even employed physician Dr Baur, believing that he would give the sanatorium the European authenticity that Mark believed was crucial for success. Mark had a deep love for America, and so set the official opening date of his sanatorium for 4 July 1904 – which unfortunately coincided with one of the worst snowstorms on record for the Blue Mountains – this didn’t stop Mark though, who transported his VIP guests through the snow in a fleet of specifically imported De Dion Bouton motors – which were some of the first cars in the country at the time. The group met at Penrith Station to make the 9 hour journey in convoy.
After a glamerous opening party, all the guests went to bed, to be woken to a strict regime of heath treatments, including mustard cloths, liver packs, warm enemas, eye baths and ear douches, fomentations ‘as hot as can be borne’, spinal packs, oil rubbing, nose baths, bowel kneading and much, much, much more – including the very risqué naked sun baths.
After a few years Mark noticed that the fashionable trend of hydropathy was on the decline, and reluctantly renamed his hotel the “Hydro Majestic”. All heath treatments were removed from advertising, but still available upon request.
With the mandatory ‘health’ element taken off the menu, the Hydro Majestic became an escape for a privileged clientele, offering lavish entertainments and great feasts. The notorious Cat Alley earned its name during this period (it was previously called The Cloister). This section of building was located directly outside the male dominated billiard room and was occupied by waiting wives and mistresses who gossiped about everything and anything whilst waiting for their partners.
Some famous people to stay at the Hydro Majestic included Dame Nellie Melba, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Nellie Stewart (actress), Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs, Canadian world heavy weight boxing champion Tommy Burns.
In 1922 much of the hotel was destroyed in a fire, which was in all likelihood, arson, which led to Mark refurbishing the establishment and making it more family oriented.
During World War 2, when the hotel was being managed by Bud Macken, Mark’s nephew, the US Army requisitioned the hotel for use as the 118th General Hospital. The Army gave Bud less than a week to store or remove valuable art and furniture and any remaining guests, and then the US flag was raised on the roof.
The Hydro Majestic stayed in the Foy family until 1984 and was then sold to several different people and organisations, until finally being sold to the Escarpment Group, who restored it to its former glory.
But is it haunted? Apparently so! ·
One website, “Castle of Spirits”, talks about her stay at the Hydro Majestic, and how she was woken from sleep to see the figure of a ghostly woman enter the room, wearing a gown. ·
There is also a tale associated with the hotel, that in 1912 a young woman was being harassed by a man, and in an attempt to escape him, boarded a train and fled to the Hydro Majestic. It is said that her pursuer followed her, where he strangled her with her favourite silk scarf. ·
The hotel also has two resident spirits who have been seen by quite a few staff members. There is a little girl in a blue frock with a white lace collar who likes to run through walls, and a boy who sits in the dining room chandeliers.
A notable death in the Hotel is that of Australia’s first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, who died suddenly or heart failure on 7 January 1920. I don’t know if his ghost has been seen, but I thought he was worth an honourable mention.
Written by Peet Banks
The Initiation Well, also known as the is a 27 meter staircase leading straight down to an underground tunnel system. It is part of the Quinta da Regaleira estate in historic Sintra, Portugal.
One of the wells contains nine platforms, said to be reminiscent of the “Divine Comedy” by Dante and the nine circles of Hell.
At the bottom of the wells there is a compass over a Knights Templar cross, which is said to have been Monteiro’s herald and a sign of his Rosicrucians.
Very little is known about the wells and what they were actually used for. One is said to be 88 feet deep. Regardless of their original purpose, they are definitely beautiful to behold, and their planning and construction is genius.
I can’t find any record of any hauntings at the Initiation Wells, but I’d love to get down there with my equipment to find out! Not sure if I’d like the walk back up though.
The Eastern State Penitentiary, located in Philadelphia, USA, was opened on 25 October 1829.
It is most famous as being the first prison to introduce a brand of solitary confinement as a form of rehabilitation. This solitary confinement was legally conditional in that the warden was required to visit every inmate each day, and that the overseers were required to see each inmate at least three times a day.
The doors on the prison were tiny, and it is believed that they were constructed like this in order to force prisoners to bow when entering their cells, similar to giving penance at a religious service. Each cell had a single glass skylight, said to represent the ‘eye of God’, which gave the impression that they were being watched by God at all times.
Outside the cells was an exercise yard, and time in the sun was synchronised so no prisoners would be out in the exercise yard at the same time – severely limiting human contact. When a prisoner was escorted to the yard from his cell, he would have a hood placed over his head so the other prisoners did not recognise him.
One of the most bizarre prisoners to be locked up in Eastern State Penitentiary was Pep “The Cat-Murdering Dog”. Pep was an actual dog who was given a life sentence by Governor Gifford Pinchot for allegedly murdering the governor’s wife’s favourite cat. Apparently Pep was assigned with an inmate number, and he even had a mug shot. It is thought though that the Governor placed “Pep” in prison simply to boost the morale of other inmates.
The prison was the scene of a major breakout when, on 3 April 1945, twelve inmates managed to dig an undiscovered, 97-foot (30 metre) tunnel under the prison. It took a year to dig this tunnel, the mastermind behind the escape being inmate Clarence Klinedinst, a plasterer, stone mason, burglar and forger. After a years’ worth of effort, half of the escapees were captured by the end of the day, with the other half caught within a couple of months.
Because of its dark history, many believe the Eastern State Penitentiary is haunted. Both officers and inmates alike have reported mysterious visions and strange experiences in the gaol. It is the place of legend in the paranormal community, with people travelling from all over the world to investigate it.
Some of the most common reported phenomenon include:
-Shadowy figures that seem to quickly turn away when approached
-a dark figure that is occasionally seen in the guard tower
-an evil cackling is heard coming from cellblock 12
-shadowy figures have been seen sliding down walls in cellblock 6
-ghostly faces have been witnessed in cellblock 4
-and strange sounds such as disembodied footsteps, distant talking, and banging of cell doors have also been heard.
The Eastern State Penitentiary is definitely on my Paranormal Bucket-list!
Peet is a paranormal investigator, ghost tour guide, events manager and documentary producer – she is also Cancerian, has blue eyes and likes walks on the beach…
The Waverly Hills Sanatorium was built for tragedy, has a tragic past, and is one of the most reportedly haunted places in the world.
Opened in 1910, it was built with the intent of accommodating 40 to 50 tuberculosis patients. The area the hospital is located in, Jefferson County, had been severely stricken with an outbreak of tuberculosis. It was thought that the area was so rife with the ‘white plague’ due to the tuberculosis bacteria thriving in the wetlands along the Ohio River.
Two years after the opening of Waverly Hills, a further wing was added, for advanced cases of tuberculosis, and in 1914 a further pavilion was added, aimed at sick children and the children of tuberculosis patients.
Due to the constant need to repair the wooden structures, more durable structures were built, including a five-story building in 1924 that housed more than 400 patients.
The exact number of deaths that occurred at Waverly Hills is unknown, but it is estimated that over 9,000 occurred during its operation. The dead were transported by a rail car system through a “Death Tunnel”. The bodies at the end of the tunnel were then collected by their families, or cremated. The tunnel stretched 525 feet underground to the bottom of the hill.
The tunnel was originally constructed as a warmer way to visit the hill in winter, and an efficient way to supply the sanatorium with its food, and with coal. In time it then became the death tunnel, so as to not create mass panic when patients saw the number of fatalities being taken off the premises.
Waverly Hills operated for over 50 years, until an antibiotic was invented that better assisted tuberculosis. It closed its doors to patients in 1962 – but not all souls left…
The ghosts of Waverly Hills Sanatorium are numerous.
- There’s Timmy, a 6 or 7 year old boy who likes to play ball with the visitors
- Mary Lee, a pregnant nurse who allegedly suicided in room 502
- The Death Tunnel is said to be a vortex of some sort, and is a true paranormal hotspot with shadows, footsteps and disembodied voices.
Peet Banks is a paranormal investigator, ghost tour guide, events manager and documentary producer – she is also Cancerian, has blue eyes and likes walks on the beach…