Archive for October, 2009

Unfamiliar and Familiar Horrors

October 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Back when I was a youth soaping windows was a common activity during the Halloween season.  If you don’t know what that is it is simply to take a bar of soap and rub it on a window.  Most often the window was a car window.  Since I lived on a farm in the country I didn’t have to be concerned much about anyone soaping the windows of my parents car unless we went to town.  To keep from getting soaped on those occasions I came up with the idea of making a dummy to make our car look like it was occupied.  When we were visiting my uncle and aunt in Villa Grove I found out that this dummy was fairly convincing .  My uncle Dan was out for a walk when we got there and upon seeing our car with the dummy he said he went to our car thinking it was my father sitting in the drivers seat.  I was pretty proud at the time, however looking back on it Dan often had a few beers in him so he may not have been so hard to fool.

Once Uncle Dan and another uncle were drunk and started walking up to houses on their knees so that they could trick or treat.  I remember that my mother was disgusted by this, however us kids thought it was extremely funny.  Another time Dan was drunk and offered to give anyone a dime who would kiss his forehead.  Again us kids thought this was a good deal since a dime was worth something then.  Still some of the adults were disturbed by Dan’s generosity.

Anyway back to the dummy.  That dummy proved very effective in keeping our car from getting soaped and I decided to see what more he could do.  One night one of the neighbor boys named Neil was plowing for the farmer across the road.  He left his car parked along the road so that he could drive home when he was done.  I went out and put the dummy in his car.  The next morning I was surprised that the car and dummy were still there.  It turns out that Neil was scared to see someone in his car and walked home. Neil’s mother had called my mother to tell her about the man in the car and found out about the dummy.  With it being Halloween most everyone but Neil thought the trick was funny.

Strangely many years later Neil was murdered by his wife.  She had become involved with another man and decided that it would be easier to hire someone to kill Neil than to get a divorce.  The man who was hired for the job was supposed to make it look like a break-in.  He failed the first time when Neil heard him in the garage and instead of coming out stayed inside and called the police.  The guy got away and a few weeks later tried again and was successful.  However it didn’t take the police long to figure out what had really happened and the wife was charged with murder within a few days of the crime.

Another story from my youth involves me being scared for a time.  Me and some friends were driving around at night when my friend Steve started telling a story about a woman who seemed to be a witch.  He told of some odd things that went on at her house, the details of which I am sorry that I don’t remember.  I do remember that we decided to drive by her house, which was located at the start of what was called snake road.  Now snake road would not appear out of the ordinary to most people unless you lived in Central Illinois where most of the roads are straight for miles and miles. Snake road which had a couple of curves stood out in that environment.  I can still remember driving by the old farmhouse where the witch was supposed to have done some things like disappear and reappear.  There were three of us in the car and two of us were worked up to a state of fear by Steve’s story.  Once we got past the house Steve told us that he had made it all up.  I do remember being a little disappointed that it wasn’t true, still I respected Steve’s ability to tell a convincing story.

I think Steve was convincing because he seemed like a matter of the fact guy.  He often carried a slide rule and was into computers before most people.  He didn’t seem like the type to come up with a story about witches.  So I think that made him more believable.

Sadly, about twenty years ago Steve was killed in a car accident on a foggy morning on his way to work.   I can remember visiting him in the town where he worked on computers for an insurance company.  Frequently he would be interrupted by someone calling from work to ask a question about the computers.  He was still the same matter of fact responsible guy that he almost always was.

Now, I started out to tell a few stories of Halloween and at first had only thought about the first part of each story and not the second part about what happened later.  I was struck by how the first part as with most scary stories involved  an unfamiliar horror while the second part was of the more familiar which turned out to be a horror.

Categories: farm, musing, Scary Tags: , ,

Scary Places Part 2

October 28, 2009 Leave a comment


The house here is not connected to this story.  I took it about a year ago in Danville and thought it might make a good Halloween picture someday.  The last two stories both are from where I live.  One in the house and one on the road in front.  And actually neither for some reason are scary to me since I never felt threatened.

The first happened this time of year two years ago.  I was walking on the road that runs in front of our house shortly after sunset.  I sensed more than saw something coming toward me from my left.  I reacted by jerking backward slightly and then I saw a white tubular object pass in front of me at shoulder level.  I watched it as it passed and it started to rise and look back at me.  I sensed that it was intelligent and aware of me.  The object after looking back rose a little more and disappeared. In its movement it reminded me most of a snake.  I didn’t feel threatened by it and my feeling was that it was surprised to see me.  I have no idea what it was, however it was as real as anything I have ever seen.  In some ways it reminded me of a cartoon animation.  It definitely was unlike anything that I have seen before or since.

The second experience is one of hearing and not seeing.  I often work on a computer in the basement.  For a time nobody, but me was home on a regular basis although people would come and go.  During this time Occasionally I would hear the door open and someone walk into the kitchen.  Most often there would follow footsteps as if someone was moving around upstairs.  More than a few times I would go and see who was home only to find that no one was there.  I would puzzle over this however it didn’t disturb me.  Our house is more than a hundred years old and a lot of people have lived here and some have even died here.  So I suppose that if there are such things as ghosts there could be some here. 

So these are my scary stories. At least the ones with a supernatural element.  What they mean I have no clear idea other than if they aren’t the result of some trick my mind was playing then there is on occasion some odd things going on around here. 

Categories: Images, Scary

Scary Places

October 26, 2009 Leave a comment


The picture is of Harold’s in Danville, IL.  Some people say it can be a scary place to go into at night.  I don’t know since I have only taken pictures of the place.  Still in general I have mostly found the bars that are supposed to be scary to be a disappointment.  Although I don’t go into bars much anymore so that may have changed.  Maybe the scariest experience I ever had in a bar was when the working class bar the Dodge House in Champaign changed to the Office II.  I went in there late in the afternoon on a Friday and it was filled with office drones freshly released from their cubicles.  Most of the guys were wearing ties.  I still remember how unsettled I was by seeing this.

Now with this being the Halloween season a more proper subject would be the supernatural type of scary.  My strongest memory here is of a abandoned farm house.  Back in the 70’s when I was in high school my father had worked out a deal to remove some woodwork from the house and I was helping him.  The house had been built by my great-grandfather probably in the 1880’s and hadn’t been lived in for years.  While we were there I had the strange feeling of the presence of a young woman.  Think what you will of my state of sanity, however that is what I felt.  Strangely while we were removing the woodwork we found some letters that had somehow gotten behind the woodwork from a young woman to her boyfriend.  I wish now that I had investigated more and found out if there was any story in these letters, however looking back on it I seem to have been fairly incurious about many things in my youth.

Sometime during these days my friend Tim and me were driving around in the country one night.  I decided to show him the house we were working on.  We pulled into the lane leading up to the house and saw a glowing light coming from one of the upper windows.  By glowing I mean it was much brighter than what you would get from a light bulb.  And there seemed to be some solid mass to it.  We both looked at each other and without words knew that we each just wanted to get out of there.  So I backed down the lane and drove away.  When we talked about it later we agreed that we each had the feeling that we weren’t supposed to be there.  Now however I do wish that I had investigated more.  There definitely should not have been any lights in the house since there was no electricity.   However I would guess that there could be plenty of worldly explanations for what we saw.   At least I have found that to be the case now that I tend to check further into odd things that I see.

Well, I do have some more stories, however I will save these for another post.  I have a goal of keeping my posts to a reasonable length.  I took a week where I didn’t get on the computer much so I did miss my goal of posting at least every couple of days.  Hopefully I can get back into the habit.

Halloween and the Perfection of Humankind

October 16, 2009 Leave a comment


I have found that I like making a post better if I have an image to go with it.  I made this one from a scan from an old newspaper and some photoshop work.

Halloween when I was growing up was a time when a child could go a little wild with pranks and mostly small acts of vandalism.  For the most part this was tolerated by adults as long as what we did did not cause any lasting damage.  In fact in a way we were encouraged in that adults often shared stories of their Halloween days.  My grandmother especially had many of these stories that she told with relish. It seems like in her day it was seen as a lot of fun to tip over an outhouse.  And it was even better if someone was in the outhouse when it was tipped.

Today it doesn’t seem like Halloween is the same as it once was as far a tricks go.  I can’t remember the last time that I saw a car in October with its windows soaped.  I would imagine that there is somewhere someone at this moment talking about “zero tolerance” for such behavior.

Now although I don’t know how conscious it was, however I think the idea of the Halloween season once was to let young people get some of their “devilishness” out of their systems within certain parameters.  And I have not done a serious study of the issue, however I think this acceptance of the dark or at least less productive side of our nature was once the predominant view.

I think that in words this is captured by how we once had Peace Officers instead of Law Enforcement. At least to me there seems to be a profound difference between keeping the peace and enforcing the law.  Looking back in time some it seems that most towns once had some kind of vice district where most anything went.  The only real restriction was that none of this activity was allowed to spill over to the “respectable” parts of town.  This allowance of vice seems to have come from the idea that it couldn’t be eliminated so it was best to contain it and thereby keep the peace in most parts of town.

Then it seems that at some point the idea that humankind was perfectible started to grow.  Instead of containing vice we would now eliminate it.  I suppose the temperance movement that ended in the prohibition of alcohol showed how this way of thinking had grown.  Also in this same era once openly tolerated vice districts were shutdown and many previously legal drugs were made illegal.  Now considering the increase in violence caused by prohibition and by today’s drug wars it is hard to say if this increased the peace.  And you be the judge of if it bought humankind any closer to perfection.  Still a lot of people seem to think that if you want people to behave better you make a rule and have “zero tolerance” for its violation.

So I do wonder if people before us were wiser than us in their acceptance and accommodation of our darker sides?  Or maybe if not wiser then instinctively more realistic.   I suppose I wondered about that more lately as I have been seeing some of the horrible violence in Mexico that is a result of our decades long failure of a drug war.  During Halloween when we do still to some extent celebrate our darker sides it may be time to learn to live more peacefully with that side instead of fighting a war against it.

Greenwood Cemetery Decatur, Illinois

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment


I mentioned that I was going to visit Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur last week.  It is a pretty interesting and impressive place.  From the entrance you are confronted with many fine Mausoleums for some of the well-known Decatur families like the Milliken’s and the Mueller’s.


The photo above is of the “Barrackman Steps“. Legend has it that the spectral image of a woman in a long white grown can be seen here at sunset. Since I was there late in the morning I didn’t get to see if this was so. I do think that it wouldn’t be hard to let your imagination run away in Greenwood Cemetery.  If you would like to read more about the history and legends of Greenwood Cemetery here is a link.

Categories: history, image, Images, Places Tags: , ,


October 12, 2009 2 comments


Once in the sixties my family was at a root beer stand along one of the rural highways that were still busy with traffic in the time before the interstates.  Nearby was a field of soybeans.  A man came up to my father and asked him what those plants were.  Although my father was polite in later tellings he found it very funny that someone would not know what soybeans were.

Still soybeans were a fairly new crop in this area in the 1960’s.  Most farmers had only been growing them for about twenty years at that time.  However they had become so familiar in that short time that the outsider who didn’t recognize them seemed funny.  I suppose we all have the habit to some extent of thinking that the things that are familiar and obvious to us should be familiar and obvious to all others.  And it does seem to be the theme of many comedies to place someone in an unfamiliar environment and watch their problems in understanding.

Anyway the picture above is of some soybeans which are dry and ready for harvest.  That is pretty much what most of the soybeans in the Midwest look like now.   So hopefully if you did not know before now you will recognize soybeans and avoid falling victim to the ridicule of farmers.  Other times of year it is really fairly easy to recognize soybeans.  Today in the Midwest there are mostly only two crops that are grown, corn and soybeans.  For most of the growing season corn is much taller than soybeans.  So if you see a field you are usually safe in assuming that the short plants are the soybeans.

Some useful local history links

October 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Cinema Treasures can help you find information about movie theaters all over the US.  I first found this site when I was doing some research and encountered some theaters that I had never heard of.  So far I have been able to use Cinema Treasures to find some info on all of these mystery theaters.

Graveyards of Illinois has helped me to find the locations and names of many cemeteries in my area.  So far all the information that I have seen on this site has been very accurate.  If you have any interest in finding cemeteries in Illinois I think you will find this site valuable.

TWIN CITIES TRACTION is a history written by H. George Friedman, Jr.  about the traction railway system in the Champaign-Urbana area.  His coverage is excellent and thorough.  While this is specifically about one location I think that if you have an interest in rail transportation you may find this document interesting.

Historic Bridges of the US If you love bridges then you can probably spend a long time on this site.

Categories: history Tags:

Central Illinois Landscapes

October 9, 2009 Leave a comment
Categories: image, Images, Video Tags: , , , ,

Pioneer Cemeteries

October 8, 2009 Leave a comment


The Nelson Cemetery above is unusual for what is often called a Pioneer Cemetery in that it is still occasionally used for burial.  In the days before good roads and motor transportation people didn’t go far to bury their dead.  So every few miles there appears to have been some type of cemetery.  Most of these early cemeteries have not been used in decades and many are in poor condition.  Most were used by just a few families in the immediate area.  The Nelson Cemetery is located between Pesotum and Tuscola Illinois.


Another pioneer cemetery is the Jeese Cemetery pictured above.  This small cemetery holds mostly the graves of the Jeese and Congleton families.  I seem to remember that the latest date that I saw on the graves was from the 1930’s.  Even through I have spent many years in the vicinity of this cemetery I don’t know much about it.  There was a Mrs Congleton who once lived near the cemetery and who worked at the library where I went to grade school, however she was gone before I developed an interest in local history.  My guess is that this cemetery was used by the protestants in the area who later used the larger cemetery in Villa Grove when transportation became better.

Some day I have thought that I may do some research on the people who are buried in one of these old cemeteries.  I wonder how much I could find out.  The idea that these small plots hold the remains of the people who once formed a vibrant community hold some fascination for me.

Categories: history, Images, Places Tags: , , ,

Fake HDR

October 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Probably most of you are already aware of some version of this, however if you aren’t maybe you will find it useful.  The photo below is about the best I was able to do with a light amount of photoshop work.Tuesday-Evening2

Landscapes like this can be much improved using hdr techniques, however last night it was very windy so it would have been impossible to take multiple images that would align.  So what I did was to take the raw image and set the exposure level to plus 1, 0, and minus 1 for three separate images.  I then processed these in Photomatix.  I liked the result that I got.  Especially since it required little work.  I have found this method very useful when movement in a subject makes hdr usable multiple images impossible to get.


Categories: image, Photoshop Tags: , , ,