Category Archives: General Interest

Gay History: John F. Kennedy Had A Gay Best Friend Who Even Had His Own Room At The White House

The book “Jack and Lem: John F. Kennedy and Lem Billings: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship,” details the extraordinary relationship between two unlikely friends.

JFK, or ‘Jack’ as he was known by his close friends and family, had a gay best friend named Lem Billings, who he met in prep school when Kennedy was 15 and Lem was 16.

The pair became the best of friends who wrote letters to each other when they were apart, traveled to Europe together and were so close that Joseph Kennedy Sr. thought of Billings as another son, according to GregInHollywood.

The book details JFK’s angry reaction to Lem after he made a sexual advance towards him, saying: “I’m not that kind of boy.” But this misunderstanding did not end the duo’s relationship.

Writes GregInHollywood:

From the time he and Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings met at Choate, until the President’s assassination thirty years later, they remained best friends.

Lem was a virtual fixture in the Kennedy family who even had his own room at the White House.

The book about their friendship draws on hundreds of letters and telegrams between the two, Billings’s oral history and interviews with family and friends like Ben Bradlee, Gore Vidal, and Ted Sorensen.

It was a friendship that endured despite an era of rampant homophobia.

Billings was a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School and was an advertising executive at the Manhattan advertising firm Lennen & Newell. He put his business career on hold to work on Kennedy’s campaign for president.

Bradlee says in the book: “I suppose it’s known that Lem was gay….It impressed me that Jack had gay friends.”

Billings obviously never came out but did once say: “Jack made a big difference in my life. Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”

Kenneth Hill of WoolfAndWilde, conducted a fascinating interview with David Pitts, the author of ‘Jack and Lem’, to uncover some more details about the extraordinary relationship between the two unlikely friends:
Kenneth Hill: How would you characterize the friendship between JFK and Lem Billings?

David Pitts: The way I would characterize it is that is was a very close, deep, friendship across sexual orientation lines.

KH: You said that this was the story of a friendship that crossed sexual orientation lines, which I think is really an interesting element of it, but talk a little bit about the depth of this friendship. The fact that it started when they were very young and, from what I read in the book, they were basically inseparable for the rest of their lives except when circumstances had them in distant cities.

DP: Yes, indeed. I think there were a number of elements to it. First of all, there were a series of bonding events early on. One was the fact that they both hated that school [Choate] in which they met. And were engaged in all kinds of pranks which almost got them expelled twice. That was obviously a bonding phenomenon. Secondly, they roomed together for part of the time at the school.

Thirdly, and I think this is really important, John Kennedy was so sick most of his life, far earlier than when most people think, including when he was at Choate, and Lem was the person at boarding school — his mother and father did not come to the school when he was ill; Lem was there. Lem was the person who was always there for him and took care of him. And then fourthly, there was the two month trip to Europe that they took, just before WWII in 1937, just the two Americans at that pivotal time, I think that was obviously a very strong bonding event.

And then over and above these issues, I would say this — and this is kind of a complicated thought because we really don’t have language to express these kinds of relationships — and that is, I’m firmly convinced after working on this book that John Kennedy’s sexual interests were in women. We don’t need much evidence of that, the evidence is all over the place. But his strongest emotional attachments were to men — and principally, to Lem. We don’t have a word for that, right? Somebody who prefers the opposite gender for sexuality, and the same gender for deep, emotional attachments.

KH: We don’t really have a word for that. I guess “man’s man” used to sort of mean that, but JFK took it so much further in a way because he loved being around men, he knew some men were attracted to him and even seemed to enjoy it. He liked the stimulation of those relationships, there was nothing sexual about it, but there was something about that male-male dynamic that fed him.

DP: I think that’s exactly right. There was one reviewer who wrote, “What’s the big deal here? This guy’s writing that JFK was comfortable with gay men, so big deal, we all knew that.” But of course it’s not the fact that he had a friend named Lem Billings who was gay. This was the closest person in all the world to him outside of his family for 30 years. He wasn’t just “a gay friend” on the side.

KH: One of the very surprising facts that comes out in this book is that Lem had his own room at the White House?

 Yes, that’s one of the revelations in the book that’s really surprising. And actually some of the people who were working in the White House very close to JFK didn’t know it. For example, Ted Sorensen whom I interviewed for the book, perhaps the closest aide to JFK, saw Lem around the White House all the time, but he told me he didn’t know that he’d had his own room there and was staying there so much of the time. But yeah, that’s another indication of the depth of the attachment.

One thing I was intent on doing when I wrote this book, because I thought it would be open to various forms of attack, is that I never went beyond what the documents said. The book is a lot of quotes from documents, or that interviewees said. This friendship might have contained a lot of things that I wasn’t able to find out because I didn’t want to enter the area of speculation.

 It seems without a doubt that Lem was in love with JFK. But it’s never stated explicitly because you don’t have any record of his ever saying that.

 No, I think the closest … I mean, these were more sedate times, especially where homosexuality is concerned. Even in the various documents, Lem is never overt in his statements. But there was one statement from one of the documents, and I have it in front of me here, that I think is just expresses his feelings. Here’s the quote: “Jack made a big difference in my life. Because of him, I was never lonely. He may have been the reason I never got married.”

This is somewhat of a difficult thought as well, but I think gay people had a way back then of telegraphing to future generations what their feelings were that they could not express candidly at the time. And anybody who reads some of these words today would have no doubt what Lem’s feelings were, but in the context of that time it was not obviously understood.


Gay History: Pride, Prejudice and Punishment: Gay Rights Around The World

Australians have voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage — but elsewhere in the world gay people can struggle to simply stay out of jail.

Being openly gay is effectively illegal in more than 70 countries — and can result in severe punishment, sometimes even death.

See how Australia’s position on same-sex marriage compares around the world.

The state of marriage rights

Voters’ ‘yes’ response to the SSM postal survey is Australia’s latest step towards allowing same-sex couples to marry, and may prove close to the culmination of a long campaign.

Campaigners have suggested Australia is lagging behind rest of the world.

It is fair to say that most countries with similar cultural backgrounds to Australia have now legalised same-sex marriage, but based on total country numbers, Australia remains part of the majority in restricting marriage to couples made up of a man and a woman.

Out of 209 countries the ABC examined, only 24 allow same-sex couples to marry.

There is no same-sex marriage in Asia or the Middle East, and South Africa is the only country in Africa to have legalised it.

In Europe, the legal status of same-sex marriage is mixed. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, with other Western countries including the United KingdomFrance, Spain and Germany following it.

Yet more than half of European Union members have not.

Mima Simic and her girlfriend Marta Sisak vote in Croatia’s referendum on defining marriage as a “union of man and woman”.
Reuters: Antonio Bronic

Some countries in Eastern Europe have recently sought to amend their constitutions to entrench the “traditional definition” of marriage:

  • Hungary brought in a new constitution in 2011 that specifically restricts marriage to heterosexual couples.
  • Voters in Croatia (2013) and Slovakia (2015) voted to change the definition of marriage in their constitutions so that it applies only to a union of a man and a woman, although the Slovakian referendum was invalid due to a low turnout.
  • In December 2015, Slovenian voters rejected the legalisation of same-sex marriage in a referendum.

Australia made a similar amendment to its Marriage Act in 2004, adding a definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”.

How have countries legalised same-sex marriage?

In Australia, Parliament can legalise same-sex marriage by amending the Marriage Act but the Government’s policy has been that its MPs will only be able to vote for same-sex marriage if a majority of Australians support the change via a plebiscite.

The Government’s compulsory plebiscite proposal was defeatedin the Senate. Instead, the non-compulsory Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics between September 12 and November 7.

After the survey returned a yes outcome, a private member’s bill will now be debated in Parliament to legalise marriage between people of the same sex.

Out of the countries that have legalised same-sex marriage:

  • Only one country, Ireland, put the change to a people’s vote. A referendum was legally required, held in May 2015, and overwhelmingly passed.
  • Parliaments legalised same-sex marriage in 20 countries.
  • Court rulings prompted the change in five countries.
Gay rights supporters celebrate after a US Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry

The highest-profile court decision was in the United States in 2013, when the Supreme Court effectively legalised same-sex marriage by finding the Defence of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

Most recently, in April 2017, the Constitutional Court of Taiwan (Republic of China) ruled that the Taiwanese law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. It ordered that a change in the law had to occur within two years. At the time of writing, same-sex marriage is still unavailable in Taiwan.

Where is being gay illegal?

Marriage is an important issue in Western countries but elsewhere in the world, LGBT people can struggle to simply stay out of jail.

There are more than 70 countries where homosexual acts are illegal.

The countries shaded in the map above are those where there is a law that prohibits homosexual acts in part or all of the country.

Most of these countries fall within two main categories — just over half are former colonies mostly in Africa that inherited discriminatory laws but never repealed them, while the others are majority-Muslim countries.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) publishes an annual report of “state-sponsored homophobia”.

What exactly is outlawed varies from country to country. Twenty-eight states only prohibit relations between men.

A common formulation is a prohibition of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.

Sometimes gay sex is placed in the same category as bestiality.

  • In India it is an offence to “voluntarily [have] carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”.
  • In Mauritius, it is a crime to commit “sodomy or bestiality”.
  • In Uganda, a law provides for a seven-year jail term for anyone who conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony.
Kenyan MP Irungu Kang’ata leads an anti-gay caucus protest in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Reuters: Thomas Mukoya

Not all the countries with these laws actually enforce them for consensual sex at home.

The Singapore Penal Code prohibits “any act of gross indecency with another male person” in “public or private”, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

But National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Lynette Chua says the ban has “seldom been applied in private, consensual situations and [is] typically used in non-consensual situations or cases involving minors”.

Similarly, Shakira Hussein of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne suggests that in Islam “on all sexual matters … it isn’t the act itself that is to be punished but the public commission of it”.

“Some sharia scholars say that the laws against illicit sex should basically be regarded as laws against public indecency, since they require four witnesses.”

Even if bans aren’t strictly enforced, they often still have a harmful impact on LGBT people.

Achim Hildebrandt of the University of Stuttgart says such bans “represent an ever-present threat of blackmail and public disgrace … they drive gays and lesbians out of public life and prevent them from demanding more far-reaching reforms such as the outlawing of discrimination in the workplace and the housing market”.

Where do LGBT people risk the death penalty?

The death penalty is in place for same-sex sexual acts in at least 11 countries.

According to the IGLA, the death penalty applies in Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and in parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

In theory the death penalty could also be imposed in Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emiratesthrough sharia law, but this does not appear to have occurred in practice.

Information on when the death penalty has been carried out is not readily available.

The “Erasing 76 Crimes” blog, which advocates for the repeal of anti-LGBT laws around the world, indicates that only Iran and Saudi Arabia have actually carried out executions for same-sex activity in recent times.

The blog’s founder, Colin Stewart, says that in Saudi Arabia“beheadings have been imposed for homosexual behaviour in the past, including three men in 2002, but imprisonment and lashings are a more common punishment”.

Iran is second in the world for frequency of executions [after China], including executions for homosexual activity, although the facts about the offences being punished are often unclear or misrepresented in news accounts.”

Pakistanis rally in Peshawar in support of a trans woman who was arrested at her wedding.
Reuters: Fayaz Aziz

At the same time, Dr Hussein points out the existence of established trans communities in Iran and Pakistan. She tells the ABC:

“Some same-sex male couples circumvent laws against homosexuality by getting a doctors’ certificate to say that one half of the couple is a trans woman. Supposedly, this is meant to be followed up with surgery, but that isn’t necessarily carried through.

“Pakistan has had a ‘third gender’ option on the national ID card for a few years now [and] Iran has one of the highest rates of male-to-female trans surgery in the world.”

What other forms of harassment take place?

Intimidation of LGBT people is not restricted to the threat of jail or death.

Homosexuality is legal in Russia but in recent years the Government has imposed laws that ban “promotion” of “sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism”.

Omar G Encarnacion of Bard College in New York suggests thatRussia’s law “is so broad that it outlaws gay pride parades, public displays of affection by same-sex couples, gay symbols such as the rainbow flag, and even a public admission of homosexuality, unless made in the way that casts homosexuality in a negative light”.

A Russian police officer detains a man who planned to place a tribute to the victims of a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in front of the US Embassy in Moscow.
Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev

Closer to home, Singapore takes a tough line on “promotion” of LGBT issues — on paper at least.

According to Assistant Professor Chua, “Singaporean media are banned from carrying content that “promotes”, “justifies” or “glamorises” “lifestyles such as homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexualism, transsexualism [and] transvestism”.

In mid-2014, the National Library of Singapore announced it would pulp its copies of three children’s books with LGBT themes. According to the Government-linked Straits Times Newspaper:

“And Tango Makes Three is based on the true story of a pair of male penguins who raise a chick together; The White Swan Express features adoptive parents such as a lesbian couple; and Who’s In My Family highlights different family structures and includes same-sex parents.”

After a public outcry, two of the books were returned to the library but placed in the adults’ section.

In June 2016, the Singapore Government announced that“foreign entities should not fund, support or influence” Pinkdot, an annual LGBT event held in a Singapore park.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, suggests“Singapore’s demand that foreign companies stop sponsoring PinkDot encourages corporations to discriminate against LGBT people”.

Singapore’s annual Pink Dot event promotes acceptance of the LGBT community.
Reuters: Edgar Su

Leaders in other countries freely use discriminatory language against LGBT people: 

  • In 2015, the mayor of Budapest in Hungary described the city’s Gay Pride rally as “repulsive”.
  • In Africa, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has describedhomosexual people as “disgusting”.

The ABC has recently reported on LGBT Ugandans fleeing the country as refugees.

Members of a breakaway faction of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe protest against homosexuality in Harare.
Reuters: Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has previously said that:“Homosexuals are worse than dogs and pigs; dogs and pigs will never engage in homosexual madness,” and followed this up in 2013 by stating that LGBT people were “worse than pigs, goats and birds”.

In 2016 the ageing ruler vowed that Zimbabwe would reject any foreign aid that is “given on the basis that we accept the principle of gay marriages”.

Are things getting better for LGBT people?

With LGBT harassment and criminal penalties continuing in AfricaAsia, the Middle East and parts of Europe, the picture may seem bleak.

But veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, who famously attempted a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe in March 2001 and was then beaten by the president’s bodyguards, is more optimistic.

“There are rays of hope [in Africa], with the Seychelles, Mozambique and Sao Tome & Principe recently decriminalising homosexuality [and] in 2014, the African Commission on Human Rights and People’s Rights urged member states to protect LGBT people against discrimination and violence,” he says. 

Ty Cobb from Human Rights Campaign said: “We have seen great progress with regards to global LGBTQ rights in recent years, with three countries decriminalising same-sex activity just [in 2016], 20 countries and certain jurisdictions in Mexico have marriage equality and more and more countries are taking measures to improve the lives of trans individuals.”

At the same time, Mr Cobb notes that anti-LGBT movements continue to work against the community.

“Extremists have organised marches against marriage equality efforts in MexicoAmerican evangelicals have resorted to exporting their dangerous messages of hate from Eastern Europe to Africa, and [Islamic State] continues to target and kill members of the LGBTQ community throughout the Arab world,” he says.

In Singapore, there are signs of increased cultural acceptance of the LGBT community, with the 2016 release of home-grown web drama People Like Us taking place with no real backlash.

Telling the stories of four gay men in Singapore, the series has been well-received by the local community.

Filmaker Leon Cheo says apart from some “thumbs-down” on YouTube, “we haven’t received flak or negative emails or comments from Singaporeans at large”.

Mr Cheo says while the situation for LGBT people in Singapore is improving, “challenges such as censorship of neutral and positive LGBT news, film and TV, and archaic anti-sodomy laws still exist”.

“One of our creative objectives was to portray Asian gay men neutrally or positively [so that the] series could play a part in changing the hearts and minds of the citizens and government of Singapore,” he says.

In the Middle East, LGBT rights remain strongest in Israel although it is unclear whether or when same-sex marriage might be legalised there.


When Mom Blamed Eldest Son Of “Spreading Gayness” To Gay Teen Brother, He Adopted Him

Sadly, not every coming out story has a happy ending – but this recent Reddit post by a gay brother has a beautiful happy ending.

jason45q originally posted:My mother is a very complicated woman. She can be really sweet, but fucking batshit crazy at other times. I moved out a long time ago, I’m 27 and I left the house as soon as I turned 18 (also right after coming out). She didn’t disown me, but made a lot of homophobic remarks about me “joining the fags” and denying her grandchildren.

Today, I received a very angry phone call from my mom. I have a younger brother who’s 14 who lives with my parents and my sister. My mom snooped through his phone and apparently found a few texts to his friend confessing that he was gay. Suddenly, I’m responsible for engulfing him with my rainbow wrath when I barely see him.

I have considered trying to get him to move here with me but I don’t think he’d want to leave everything behind. My family would also have a fit.

Jason was overwhelmed by the flood of advice he received from his original post, and he updated his supportive Redditors on the dramatic turn of events that came next:I read all the comments, each and every single one. However, about an hour after writing the post, I grew impatient and just drove to my parents’ house…My mom lost her shit when I came, said that I was going to make it worse. She’s kept a little quiet though (probably because she realized she can’t do much at this point).

My younger brother is fine…He believes he’s 90% gay. He doesn’t notice girls, but notices guys. He said he’s felt deeper connections with them and is crushing on his friend (basically all the things we all had to deal with when we were young anyway).

I told him about moving in with me and switching schools. I tried to make him understand that he needs to be in a healthier environment and does not need to be taking any shit from my mom. He was very hesitant about leaving his friends, but he’s agreed to move in with me in the next month or so. And for those of you asking if I can afford it, I very much can.

Today morning I told my mother he was going to stay with me. She wanted to argue, but held back. She knows she crossed my patience limit a long time ago, so it was relatively easy. I’m getting forms from the lawyer tomorrow about making me his legal guardian. My mom agreed to sign it saying “it’s probably better for me that you two will be gone anyway” and my dad gives negative two shits about anything so that’ll be easy.

I guess I can say this is off to a more positive start. I can get to know him better now and at the same time protect him from emotional abuse. He’s a very soft spoken kid, a little too passive and lets people run over him. I was the opposite- and by that I mean very stubborn, rebellious and maybe a bit of an asshole…but it’s what helped me move out I guess. Now I’ll be able to toughen him up a little and build some more confidence in him.

Thanks for all the advice, it was very much appreciated. I will not call child services anymore, since he’s not going back anyway. I’d rather she suffers in silence as she realizes she drove her sons away. She’ll never admit it but I’m sure it’s there.


Gay History: Sodomy; The Law in England, 1290-1885

There was no royal or parliamentary law against homosexual activity in England until 1533, but a number of medieval legal sources do discuss “sodomy:.

Fleta, xxxviii.3: Those who have dealings with Jews or Jewesses, those who commit bestiality, and sodomists, are to be buried alive after legal proof that they were atken in the act, and public conviction” 

[Fleta, seu Commentarius Juris Anglicani, (London: 1735), as trans in Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, (London: Longmans, Green, 1955), 145] 

Bailey notes that it is improbable that the penalty or burial alive was ever inflicted in medieval times [although Tacitus refers to it among ancient Germans in Germania 12].

Britton, i.10: “Let enquiry also be made of those who feloniously in time of peace have burnt other’s corn or houses, and those who are attainted thereof shall be burnt, so that they might be punished in like manner as they have offended. The same sentence shall be passed upon sorcerers, sorceresses, renegades, sodomists, and heretics publicly convicted” 

[Britton, ed. F.M. Nichols, (Oxford: 1865), Vol 1:41-42 and Bailey, 146]

Bailey notes that this implies a process in which ecclesiastical courts made the charges and convictions and the state put them into effect. There do not seem, however, to have been serious efforts made to put theory into practice. The preamble to the 1533 Law seems to make this clear.

25 Henry VIII. C6

Le Roy le veult
“Forasmuch as there is not yet sufficient and condign punishment appointed and limited by the due course of the Laws of this Realm for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind of beast: It may therefore please the King’s Highness with the assent of the Lords Spiritual and the Commons of this present parliament assembled, that it may be enacted by the authority of the same, that the same offence be from henceforth ajudged Felony and that such an order and form of process therein to be used against the offenders as in cases of felony at the Common law. And that the offenders being herof convict by verdict confession or outlawry shall suffer such pains of death and losses and penalties of their good chattels debts lands tenements and hereditaments as felons do according to the Common Laws of this Realme. And that no person offending in any such offence shall be admitted to his Clergy, And that Justices of the Peace shall have power and authority within the limits of their commissions and Jurisdictions to hear and determine the said offence, as they do in the cases of other felonies. This Act to endure till the last day. of the next Parliament” 

[Bailey, 147-148, and H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970) [British title: The Other Love

Note that the law only ran until the end of the next Parliament. The law was reenacted three times, and then in 1541 it was enacted to continue in force for ever. In 1547, Edward VI’s first Parliament repealed all felonies created in the last reign [I Edw. VI. C.12]. In 1548 the provisions of the 1533 Act were given new force, with minor amendments – the penalty remained death, but goods and lands were not forfeit, and the rights of wives and heirs were safeguarded. Mary’s accession brought about the repeal of all Edward’s acts in 1548 [1 Mar c.1]. It was not until 1563, that Elizabeth I’s second Parliament reenacted the law [5 Eliz I. C.17] and the law of 1533 (not 1548) were given permanent force. 

In 1828, the statute of 1563 was revoked by a consolidating act, but the death penalty was retained. In 1861 life imprisonment, or a jail time of at least ten years, was substituted for the death penalty. All these laws were against buggery, and indeed the law of 1828 had discussed matters of proof in terms of penetration. Note that other sexual activities were not specifically criminalised.

In 1885 Mr. Labouchere introduced an amendment to the Criminal Amendment Act of 1885. It read:-

48&49 Vict. c.69, 11: “Any male person who, in public or private, commits or is party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour” 

So for the first time private acts were brought under the scope of the law, as were acts other than anal penetration. This became the famous blackmailer’s charter, and was the law used to convict Oscar Wilde.

[for all the above see Bailey 145-152]

It was the Act of 1533, then, which first made buggery an offense under English criminal law. This law survived in various forms England until 1967, although it was amended in 1861 to substitute life imprisonment for the penalties of death and forfeiture of property. 

But the direct effects of this law were not restricted to England. Because of England’s success as a colonial power, and its tendency to impose its entire legal structure on the ruled areas, legal prohibitions against homosexual activity derived from this law extended well outside England. In Scotland, for instance, (which has a separate legal system) the law was not changed until 1979. In many American states “sodomy” laws are still on the books, as also in former British colonies in the Caribbean.

The original document of 1533 survives – select the link for a a jpg image

[ref. H. Montgomery Hyde, The Love That Dared Not Speak Its Name: A Candid History of Homosexuality in Britain, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970)


These Are The World’s 10 Most Haunted Places

1. Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada

What is it? Built 125 years ago, The Banff Springs Hotel was and is a luxury stop for Canadian train travellers. Now part of the Fairmont chain of hotels, “The Castle in the Rockies” has become an iconic landmark in the region’s picturesque landscape.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Guests have reported sightings of a bride falling down the staircase and breaking her neck after her dress has caught on fire. But perhaps the strangest of all is the ghost of former bellman Sam Macauley. He’s been seen helping people to their room, unlocking the door, turning on the lights and then vanishing when guests go to tip him. Rooms start at roughly $440 Canadian dollars and the ghosts are free.

2. Bhangarh Fort, Rajasthan, India

What is it? The remains of a fort city built by Raja Bhagwant Singh in 1573 AD. Once a collection of royal palaces, grand temples, bazars and mansions, today the fort is an archaeological site known as the ‘House of Ghosts’.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Long ago, a magical priest fell in love with the ruler’s daughter, a beautiful princess called Ratnavati. But his love was unrequited, so he cast a ‘love spell’ on her perfume. Ratnavati found out, threw the perfume bottle at him, which turned into a boulder and crushed him. But before he died, he cursed the princess, her family and the entire village. Bhangarh Fort is said to be forever condemned to desolation and inhabited by ghosts, making it one of India’s eeriest locations to visit.

3. The Island of Dolls, Xochimico, Mexico

Photo credit: Esparta Palma

What is it? A small island south of Mexico City surrounded by the canals of Xochimico. Never intended as a tourist attraction, the island is dedicated to a young girl who died there under mysterious circumstances.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Known as Isla de las Munecas or Island of the Dolls, the creepy site is home to hundreds of decapitated dolls. But how did they get there? The island’s caretaker is said to have found a drowned girl in the canal. Shortly after finding her, he spotted a floating plastic doll, which he hung in a tree as a mark of respect. For years he hung more and more dolls in order to please the little girl’s spirit. Locals have reported sightings of possessed dolls moving their heads, opening their eyes, even whispering to each other. What started as an innocent gesture has now become one of Mexico’s spookiest attractions.

4. Château de Brissac, Loire Valley, France

Photo credit: Daniel Jolivet

What is it? Originally built as a fortress in the 11th century, Château de Brissac is the highest castle in France, with seven magnificent floors, 204 rooms and its own private opera house seating 200 people.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Home to the Cossé-Brissac family for five centuries, the “Giant of the Loire Valley” has had many notable visitors over the years including King Charles VII. One of the more unearthly guests is La Dame Verte (Green Lady). Murdered by her husband after being caught having an affair, her ghostly figure is often seen in the tower room of the chapel. With sockets for eyes and a nose, when she’s not scaring visitors her screeching can be heard echoing around the castle.

5. Hill of Crosses, Šiauliai, Lithuania

Photo credit: Zairon

What is it? A collection of over 200,000 wooden crosses on a small hill in Šiauliai, north Lithuania. The Hill of Crosses started as an act of rebellion in 1831 against the Russian uprising. Religion was forbidden by Soviet Russia and the hill was bulldozed twice during the occupation. After Lithuania’s independence in 1991, it became a holy site for many Christian pilgrims.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Just look at it.

6. Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines

Photo credit: Martin Lewison

What is it? An ancient burial practice carried out by the Igorot tribe of Mountain Province in northern Philippines.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? A burial tradition intended to bring the deceased closer to heaven, coffins are either nailed or tied to the sides of cliffs. Each coffin is only a metre long, as the corpse is buried in the foetal position, honouring the Igorot’s belief that people should leave the world the same way they entered it. Even more grisly, years ago savages from different tribes would hunt for heads and take them home as a trophy. Essentially, the dead were buried high up so nobody could reach them. Now if that’s not a haunted place to visit, we don’t know what is.

7. The Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa

Photo credit: Leo za1

What is it? Built by Dutch colonists in the 17th century, the Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in South Africa and once the seat of many government operations.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Over the years, the fortress has seen some horrendous punishments and executions, which sparked many reports of ghost-sightings. The most famous of which is ‘the Lady in Grey’, a female apparition that has been seen running and crying hysterically through the castle. Interestingly, she hasn’t been spotted since a woman’s body was found during excavations. Now home to three excellent museums and a restaurant, South Africa’s most haunted castle is definitely worth a visit.

8. Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania

What is it? This impressive 14th century castle is a national monument with a frightening reputation thanks to Bram Stoker’s chilling novel.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Bran Castle is the only castle in Transylvania that fits the description from the Gothic horror novel, Dracula. The story follows a blood-sucking vampire, Count Dracula of Transylvania and his battle with vampire hunter Van Helsing. Legend has it that in villages nearby, evil spirits called “steregoi” act like normal people during the day, but at night their souls leave their bodies and torment locals in their sleep.

9. The Tower of London, London, United Kingdom

What is it? Built in 1097, the castle, fortress and World Heritage Site has seen over 900 years of history. From regal kings to tortured prisoners, the Tower of London is one of the most haunted places in the UK.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? With such a rich history, it’s no surprise that the Tower of London has its fair share of gruesome tales. Over the years there have been many paranormal sightings, the most famous of which is Anne Boleyn, wife of notorious King Henry VIII. Beheaded by order of the King in 1536, her headless body has been spotted roaming the tower. Not just a home for the dead, look out for the guardians of the Tower… six ominous ravens.

10. Door to Hell, Karakum desert, Turkmenistan

Photo credit: Benjamin Goetzinger

What is it? A giant gas field, the size of an American football field located in the Karakum desert.

Why is it a spooky place to visit? Known as the “Door to Hell”, the flaming crater could easily be mistaken for the gateway to the Underworld. The crater was formed in 1971, when a Soviet drilling rig accidentally hit a massive underground natural gas cavern. Resulting in poisonous fumes being released into the air, the hole was lit to prevent an environmental catastrophe. More than 40 years later, the hole is still burning. Camp under the stars and marvel at the crater’s infernal blaze for an other-worldly experience.


Over Forty Years Later, Disagreement About Disco Demolition Night

Disco vinyl smolders in center field at Comiskey Park. (Fred Jewell/AP)

On July 12, 1979, 48,000 fans packed Chicago’s Comiskey Park for Disco Demolition Night. Some spectators went out of control.

“They got really, I would say, violent,” says Darlene Jackson, who was 10 years old when the White Sox held Disco Demolition Night. “It was so primal and tribal.”

Jackson was jolted as she watched the postgame news reports.

Darlene Jackson (left) and her mother at WBEZ in 1978. Jackson had won 2nd place in a radio writing competition. (Courtesy Darlene Jackson)

“I remember sitting in our living room — we had green carpeting — and sitting on the floor,” Jackson says. “And my dad in the background saying, ‘These people have lost their minds.’ ”  

In recent years, some have said Disco Demolition Night had a dark side, a side many didn’t see — or didn’t want to see – 40 years ago.

Veeck’s Big Idea

In the late ’70s, the Chicago White Sox were owned by Bill Veeck. Veeck was famous for his creative promotions, including a pyrotechnic scoreboard and a shower near Comiskey’s center field bleachers. But in 1979, neither fireworks nor personal hygiene drew hordes of fans.

“We were not doing well,” says Bill’s son, Mike Veeck .

In 1979, Mike Veeck was the White Sox’s assistant business manager and promotion director. At the season midpoint, the White Sox were 35–45. The team was drawing fewer than 10,000 fans per game. The poor attendance called for more creatively extreme measures.

While the Sox struggled, disco was at the peak of its popularity. It was everywhere — in movies, nightclubs, clothing shops and on the radio. The genre had grown far beyond its more obscure beginnings in the mid-’70s as a dance club phenomenon especially popular with African Americans, Latinos and the gay community. But in 1979, there was a growing backlash against disco, particularly at one Chicago radio station.

“I caught wind of a guy named Steve Dahl blowing up disco records,” Mike Veeck says.

Steve Dahl had lost his job spinning rock records when the radio station he worked for changed to an all-disco format. He quickly found another job at another rock station. But he was still angry.

“And every morning, I would play a disco record,” Dahl says. “I’d run the needle across the record. And then I would have an explosion — like, blowing up the record.”

(Just to be clear, Dahl’s talking about explosion sound effects. The real explosions would come later.)

Dahl started holding “Death to Disco” rallies at nightclubs. He even hit the airwaves with his own 45 single, a parody of Rod Stewart’s disco mega-hit “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

“Rod Stewart, The Stones, a lot of mainstream rock ‘n’ roll acts were putting out disco records,” Dahl says. “I think that there was a feeling of disenfranchisement by the kids wearing the blue jeans and the rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts.”

Dahl’s appeal to his growing fan base was too much for Veeck to resist.

“Steve was doing his 6:00 to 10:00  [a.m.] shift, and at 10:05, I’m standing at the door of the studio going, ‘Let me in. I got an idea,’ ” Veeck says, knocking on the table.

Veeck presented his idea for a Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. It would take place between games of a twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers on July 12. Admission would be just 98 cents for customers who brought in a disco record. Dahl agreed to give it a spin. Veeck had no idea what the promotion would turn into.

The First Game

Early on the morning of July 12, Mike Veeck met with a group of off-duty Chicago police who would be working security.

“And I told them in the morning meeting what we thought the estimated attendance would be,” Veeck says. “I told ’em we were gonna have 35,000 people. They thought that was hilarious.”

But by 4 o’clock that afternoon, about that many had lined up outside Comiskey.

Andrew Brown was one of them. He was there on an outing with his Cub Scout den.

“I was 10 and a massive baseball fan,” Andrew says. “This is my first double header. This was a big deal.”

Andrew and his fellow Cub Scouts entered Comiskey Park. He says he paid little mind to banners hanging from the upper deck that read “Disco sucks!” He was too excited about the baseball and the hot dogs he’d soon be eating in the outfield picnic area. It was a 10-year-old’s dream.

But when he made his way to his seat along the first base side, Andrew noticed that something was very different.

“The place was really crowded,” Andrew says. “I mean, really crowded. There were no empty seats.”

“And clearly a lot of people who were not there for the baseball,” says David Brown, Andrew’s older brother. He was there, too. “A lot of young guys in concert T-shirts.”

“… when Steve rode in on his Jeep, the electricity picked up several volts.”


“When the game actually started, I was working the seats,” says Dave Gaborek, who was a teenager selling soda pop that night. As the first game began, he noticed that not all of the paying customers had left their disco records in boxes at the gates, as they were supposed to do.

“They were just throwing records periodically on the field,” Gaborek says. “Kids were whipping them out of the upper deck. So it was starting to become a little mayhem-ish.”

But Dave Gaborek and everyone else in attendance hadn’t seen anything yet. In the bottom of the ninth of the first game, chants of “disco sucks” almost drowned out the sounds of baseball.

The White Sox lost the first game. And as the teams prepared for the second, DJ Steve Dahl took the field in a military Jeep. He wore a helmet and army fatigues.

“And when Steve rode in on his Jeep, the electricity picked up several volts,” Veeck says. “We went from 120 immediately to 220.”

The Jeep stopped in center field. Dahl grabbed a microphone and whipped the crowd of about 48,000 into a frenzy.

“Since I didn’t think anybody was going to be there, I had no prepared remarks,” Dahl says. “So I just yelled stuff.”

The Veeck’s motto had always been “Fun is good.” But Dahl’s tone was not fun. He led a chant of “Disco sucks.”

“And we’re never gonna let ‘em forget it!” he shouted. “They’re not gonna shove it down our throats! We rock ‘n’ rollers will resist, and we will triumph!”

From there, Dahl directed attention to a large box in center field. It was full of some of the disco records that had been collected at the gates. Then someone lit a fuse.

There was a huge explosion.   

“And records went everywhere, and parts of the box caught on fire,” Dahl says.

“It was a hot night, and the wind wasn’t really blowing,” Andrew Brown says. “And so, this almost smog or smoke just settled on the field and gave it, sort of, this surreal aspect to it.”

When the smoke cleared a bit, the damage became evident.

“I do remember it taking out a good portion of center field,” David Brown says. “I mean, there was a huge crater after this was done.”

‘Hell Broke Loose’

Dahl hopped into the Jeep. 

“We kind of went around the stadium once on the warning track, and people were throwing cherry bombs and beer at us,” Dahl says. “And those were the people that liked us. Went out through the centerfield gate.”

“And at that point, hell broke loose — people were on the field racing around, disco records flying,” David Brown says.

“I remember looking over to my right and seeing a guy slide down the foul pole from the upper deck,” Andrew Brown says. “And that’s where I was kind of like, ‘Whoa.’ “ 

“People jumping from the center field bleachers,” Mike Veeck says. “[It] was a 40-foot drop at old Comiskey. It was safe to say that I had probably mistaken what was going to happen next.”

As Dahl made his way back to the press box, he had no idea what was going on. But Dave Gaborek saw the whole thing.

“This kid — maybe 19 or 20, real long hair down his back — he ran across the outfield, and he slid into second base,” Gaborek says. “And he picked up the bag, and he started waving it around. And then that caused an avalanche of all the kids just running on the field and burning banners.”

(Fred Jewell/AP)

An estimated 7,000 people took the field.

“Yeah, I think Mike Veeck will tell you that they were underestimated in terms of security,” says, Dave Hoekstra, another of Chicago’s many DavesHe’s the author of “Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died.”

He watched as team officials took the field. One of them was Sox owner Bill Veeck, who used a wooden leg as the result of a war injury.

“And poor Bill Veeck’s walking around the field trying to get all these kids to calm down,” Hoekstra says. “He’s walking around in his peg leg, and his peg leg gets stuck in a piece of sod, you know? And he can’t move his peg leg out of the sod. But they just couldn’t control the crowd. It got too many people on the field to control.”

Some pulled up turf in centerfield and fanned the flames that were already consuming small piles of disco vinyl. With the chaos raging all around them, the umpiring crew and team officials discussed whether the field had been rendered unplayable.

“I distinctly remember Sparky Anderson, who was the manager of the Tigers, coming out to talk to the umpires,” David Brown says. “I could read his lips — basically saying, ‘How in the heck are we going to get the second game underway … or even played?’ “

(Fred Jewell/AP)

“Then they got the riot police out there and then the mounted police came in on horses,” Gaborek says.

“The Chicago police rolled in, and nobody’s gonna stand in their way,” Andrew Brown says. “So they got the field cleared.”

But the White Sox had to forfeit the second game. It was just the fourth forfeiture in modern MLB history.

Questioning Disco Demolition Night

Bill Veeck sold the team in 1981, and Mike was out of baseball for 10 years. He says Disco Demolition Night played a part in that.

But that’s not where the story ends. Because more people are now questioning the ideological underpinnings of Disco Demolition Night. Mike Veeck calls this “revisionist history.”

“That angers me,” Veeck says. “It had simply to do with choosing between rock ‘n’ roll and disco and dance clubs.”

“It was a little bit deeper than, ‘We’re just having a good time,’ ” Darlene Jackson says.

Today, she’s also known as “DJ Lady D.” She’s a well-known house music DJ in Chicago. She was 10 years old on Disco Demolition Night. Her favorite music then was disco. And when she saw the news reports featuring images of Steve Dahl in a military outfit, “Disco sucks!” banners, white rioters and smoldering piles of vinyl, she heard a message.

Darlene Jackson spinning at Chicago’s Grant Park. (Courtesy Darlene Jackson)

“I think part of what Steve tapped into was a little bit of this unspoken transcript, that, ‘This is the music of black people, of gay people, of Latino people — and we should not accept it. We should not try to be a part of it,’ ” Jackson says. “And so that’s why people perceive it as a homophobic and a racist event. The unspoken transcript, a lot of us heard it.”

“I understand now that there was an underground gay disco scene and all, but we were unaware of all of that,” Dahl says.

“You know, we were unaware of the origins of it. We basically joined the timeline at Saturday Night Fever and Studio 54. And that was 40 years ago. Things were just different.”

“I don’t believe I’m a racist, and I am not a homophobe,” Dahl adds. “And, you know, it’s fairly Kafkaesque in that I don’t exactly know how to explain my way out of something that I didn’t think in the first place. You know?”

Jackson says one simple gesture would go a long way: an apology.

“I think that that would be a step in the right direction,” she says. “I think people will respect that.”

But instead of apologizing, the White Sox last month celebrated Disco Demolition Night’s 40th anniversary. There were commemorative T-shirts — and Steve Dahl threw out the first pitch.

But he says he’s now aware of why some feel Disco Demolition Night was an affront.

Steve Dahl throwing out the first pitch before a White Sox game on June 13. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/AP)

“I understand it, and I’m sorry if that’s caused you harm or has hurt you in some way,” Dahl says. “That’s about all I can do.”

Dahl has trademarked the phrase “Disco Demolition.” So what if someone asked him to do another Disco Demolition Night today? 

“You know, I would say, ‘I don’t know. That doesn’t seem like a good idea,’ ” Dahl says. “Because, I mean, based on all that knowledge that I have now of how it affects people and upsets people and whatnot, it doesn’t seem cool, I guess.”

“Disco is an awesome music,” Jackson says. “It espouses love, and it has a lot of energy. And why would anybody hate it?”


Gay History: 7 Little-Known Facts About James Dean

More than six decades after his untimely death, James Dean remains one of Hollywood’s most enduring and enigmatic icons.

It’s been more than 60 years since his tragic death and still Hollywood is looking for “the next James Dean.” The young actor made only three movies in his career – East of Eden (1955) where he played the bad boy brother in the “Cain and Abel” retelling, his signature role as an angst-fueled teen in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956) where he stepped into the cowboy boots of a nonconformist ranch hand. All of his movies became Hollywood classics, but he only saw one, East of Eden, completed. 

He was only 24 years old on September 30, 1955, when he was driving down Route 466 in his Porsche 550 Spyder and a car collided with his, killing him almost instantly. The young star’s life and career was cut short, but his premature death contributed to the legend he would become. Rebel Without a Cause and Giant were released posthumously, and Dean came to epitomize the sensitive, troubled rebel who fans still connect with today. Who was the man behind the brooding Hollywood sex symbol? Here are 7 revealing facts that might give you a clue.

He had family issues

Dean was born in Marion, Indiana on February 8, 1931. Dean’s father Winton left farming to become a dentist and moved the family to Santa Monica, California. But when Dean’s mother died from cervical cancer when he was 9, the family broke apart. His father sent him back to Indiana to live on his aunt and uncle’s Quaker farm, and this was the beginning of an estrangement between father and son that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. 

Dean had some dirty habits

He was the symbol of sexy cool onscreen, but off-camera the 5’8,” 135-pound star had some quirky and dirty (as in unwashed) habits. Dean supposedly didn’t care much about his public appearance and went for the disheveled look. At one formal luncheon, he showed up barefoot and in filthy jeans and was known to appear at rehearsals in pants held together with safety pins. He was also known for having pretty extreme mood swings, according to friends, who said he also had the habit of calling or visiting them late at night. “He’d be up one minute, down the next. He was uncomfortable in his own skin,” one of them said.

Just hours before his crash, James Dean takes a cigarette break at a gas station next to his beloved silver Porsche 550 Spyder that he named Little Bastard.
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

He looked up to Marlon Brando

Dean respected another brooding actor of the day, Marlon Brando. While Dean was just emerging in Hollywood, the slightly older Brando had major success as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), his iconic role as a motorcycle gang leader in The Wild One (1953), and he won an Oscar for On the Waterfront (1954). Dean attempted to call Brando and see him socially, but Brando rebuffed his attempts at a friendship. “I gave him the name of a [psycho]-analyst, and he went. At least his work improved,” Brando said. 

Dean wanted to be Billy the Kid

In his short career, Dean played fictional non-conformists who played by their own rules, but if he had lived he may have taken on the role of a real-life outlaw. He read and re-read the book The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid and frequently spoke of wanting to portray the Wild West gunslinger in a film. 

He confused Ronald Reagan with his acting method

Before he made it in the movies, Dean worked a lot on live television. A fan of improvising, he went off-script on one show and threw a few ad-libs at one of his co-stars, actor and future president Ronald Reagan, who was totally confused by Dean’s acting method. Reagan wasn’t the only one who disliked Dean’s spontaneity. “Just make him say the lines as they’re written,” one actor said once.

His sexuality has been a matter of debate

Although Dean was briefly engaged to actress Pier Angeli, his sexuality has been a matter of debate. A number of biographers doubt his relationship with Angeli was a physical one. Some biographers believe he was bisexual; others characterize him as a homosexual who had one or two brief affairs with women. It was rumored that his first sexual experience occurred as a teenager when a local minister seduced him.

Dean liked to perform magic tricks

When he wasn’t acting or racing cars, Dean liked to practice magic tricks. A smoker, who was often photographed with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Dean put a magical spin on his tobacco habit: he would put an unlit cigarette and a flaming match into his mouth and then pull out a burning cigarette. Another reason why Dean was smoking hot.

James Dean’s Death: Inside His Tragic Passing at Age 24

Though he only released one film before his dying in a car crash, the actor became a lasting figure in pop culture.

At the time of his sudden death on September 30, 1955, at age 24, James Dean had starred in only one motion picture released in theaters. He would become a cultural icon to generations and a touchstone for the burgeoning youth movement of the era, due largely to his shocking demise in a car accident that would make international headlines in a pre-digital world, and the subsequent movies that would be released posthumously in which he portrayed inward-looking, disaffected adolescents on the verge of adulthood.

When the word “teenager” was still in relatively new usage, Dean’s brief life — on- and of-screen — and sudden death from injuries sustained in a car accident would come to represent a symbol of modern masculinity in the mid-to-late 1950s, a precursor to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

“Jimmy represented something that was happening in the States after the Second World War. Until that moment in time, grown-ups — adults — set the style for clothing, set the styles for music, set the styles for everything that was going on,” Dean’s acting contemporary Martin Landau once saidof his friend’s cultural legacy.

Dean got his start acting in commercials and TV shows

Born James Byron Dean on February 8, 1931, in Marion, Indiana, his father was a farmer-turned-dentist father who moved his family to Santa Monica, California, where his son attended Brentwood Public School. An only child, Dean’s adored mother died of cancer when he was age 9 and he was sent to live on his aunt and uncle’s Quaker farm. He returned to California after graduating high school, studying theater at the University of California, Los Angeles.

After dropping out of college, the aspiring actor first appeared on television in a Pepsi advertisement followed by uncredited parts in minor Hollywood pictures before heading to New York City in 1951, where he studied at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg. Television roles followed in Danger, Omnibus and General Electric Theater and he appeared on Broadway in See the Jaguar and The Immoralist before Hollywood took notice of his talent and brooding good looks.

Dean on the set of ‘Rebel Without a Cause’
Photo: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

He filmed his three most-famous films shortly before his death

Dean was soon cast as Cal Trask in the 1954 film adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel East of Eden. It would be the only film released prior to the actor’s death and for which he would be nominated posthumously for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 1955 Academy Awards. As misunderstood, rebellious Cal, the role foreshadowed Jim Stark, the late-adolescent, angst-ridden character he portrayed in Rebel Without a Cause(1955) alongside Natalie Wood, which would become a teen favorite of the era and forever be identified with the image and legacy of Dean, the tragic movie star.

Fearing he would be typecast as an angry, rebellious teen, Dean’s next role was as a rags-to-riches Texan ranch hand in Giant (1956), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. It would be his final film and would garner him another posthumous Academy Award nomination, making him the only actor ever to be nominated twice following death.

It was soon after wrapping shooting on Giant that Dean returned to his other love – motorsport, in which he first competed professionally prior to filming Rebel Without a Cause. With reported ambition of one day competing in the Indianapolis 500 race, Dean’s financial success from East of Eden had allowed him to purchase a Triumph Tiger motorcycle and Porsche 356 speedster, the latter he traded in on the more powerful convertible Porsche 550 Spyder.

Dean in his Porsche 550 Spyder.
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

Dean was ticketed for speeding hours before his deadly crash

German Porsche-trained mechanic Rolf Wütherich encouraged Dean to drive the Porsche from Los Angeles to Salinas to get a feel for the new automobile, rather than tow it on a trailer behind the Ford station wagon in which he originally planned to make the journey. Dean was ticketed for speeding at 3:30 p.m., just over two hours before his untimely death.

Dean was killed when the 550 Spyder he was driving collided with a Ford Tudor sedan along then-U.S. Route 446 near Cholame, California. The Ford, driven by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, was turning at an intersection when the two cars hit almost head-on, resulting in massive damage to Dean’s Porsche. The actor died almost instantly while his passenger, Wütherich, was badly injured but survived.

His left foot crushed between the clutch and brake pedal, Dean’s neck was broken and he suffered massive internal injuries. Along with Wütherich, he was transported to the Paso Robles War Memorial hospital 28 miles away where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 6:20 p.m. As well as a broken neck, both his arms were broken, he had fractures of the upper and lower jaw and massive internal injuries. Wütherich suffered a fractured jaw, fractured hip and body lacerations. Turnupseed received only minor injuries and after being interviewed by attending California Highway Patrol officers at the scene, was released.

Dean’s legacy has grown in the decades since his death

An inquest into the crash in the days following found Dean at fault due to speeding, though a 2005 article in the Los Angeles Times cited an attending Highway Patrol Officer who recalled the wreckage and position of Dean’s body indicated a speed around 55 mph, not the 90 mph that had been widely reported.

Following the tragic collision, rumors spread over the years and decades that Dean had not really died but was living a secret, hidden life; that he was a closeted homosexual; that the Porsche in which he was driving on that fateful day was cursed. Alongside such rumors, the myth of Dean — the man and the actor — only grew as the years passed. “An actor must interpret life,” Dean once said. On screens and in photographs he remains forever on the cusp of adulthood, a representation of anti-establishment teenage disillusionment and social estrangement, an enduring representation generations have looked to as an interpretation and projection of their own inner lives.


Gay History: J. Edgar Hoover: Gay or Just a Man Who Has Sex With Men?

J. Edgar Hoover led a deeply repressed sexual life, living with his mother until he was 40, awkwardly rejecting the attention of women and pouring his emotional, and at times, physical attention on his handsome deputy at the FBI, according to the new movie, “J. Edgar,” directed by Clint Eastwood.

Filmgoers never see the decades-long romance between the former FBI director, and his number two, Clyde Tolson, consummated, but there’s plenty of loving glances, hand-holding and one scene with an aggressive, long, deep kiss.

So was the most powerful man in America, who died in 1972 — three years after the Stonewall riots marked the modern gay civil rights movement — homosexual?

Eastwood admits the relationship between Hoover, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer, is ambiguous.

“He was a man of mystery,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” last week. “He might have been [gay]. I am agnostic about it. I don’t really know and nobody really knew.”

In public, Hoover waged a vendetta against homosexuals and kept “confidential and secret” files on the sex lives of congressmen and presidents. But privately, according to some biographers, he had numerous trysts with men, including a lifelong affair with Tolson.

Dissociation — denying homosexuality, but displaying sexual behavior — is “not uncommon,” according to Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York City psychiatrist who is an expert in gender and sexuality.

Men with strong attractions to other men can have different degrees of acceptance from being fully closeted to being openly gay. And even if they are homosexually self-aware, they can embrace it or reject it publicly.

“We confuse sexual orientation with sexual identity,” said Drescher. “Some men do not publicly identify as gay, regardless of their sexual behavior.”

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks a group that is not labeled “gay” but “men who have sex with men.

Roy Cohn, the lawyer who served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his anti-communist campaign of the 1950s and who successfully convicted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of espionage, denied he was gay, despite an attraction to men.

Cohn, who died of AIDS in 1986, was a contemporary of Hoover and according to one biography, the two attended sex parties together in New York in the 1950s.

Cohn was characterized in a scene from Tony Kuschner’s play, “Angels in America,” speaking to his doctor: “…you are hung up on words, on labels, that you believe they mean what they seem to mean. AIDS. Homosexual. Gay. Lesbian. You think these are names that tell you who someone sleeps with, but they don’t tell you that … Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who f****s around with guys.”

Hoover’s degree of self-awareness may have been the same as Cohn’s. Despite his same-sex dalliances, he occasionally sought a “Mrs. Hoover” and even courted — albeit uncomfortably — actress Ginger Rogers’ mother and actress Dorothy Lamour.

Hoover and his constant companion for decades, Clyde Tolson. Getty Images

Hoover’s neuroses were likely rooted in childhood: He was ashamed of his mentally ill father and was dependent on his morally righteous mother, Annie, well into middle age. Until her death in 1938, Hoover had no social life outside the office.

In the film, Annie chastises her powerful son as he wilted before some of his FBI critics, telling him, “I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.”

In a 2004 biography by Richard Hack, “Puppetmaster,” which was culled from the notes of Truman Capote, who had begun interviews on Hoover and Tolson’s relationship, the author says Hoover was not gay, but suggests the man was vicariously turned on by the smut he collected on others.

One 200-page secret document was on the extracurricular activities of Capote himself, who was openly gay.

But Anthony Summers, who exposed the secret sex life of Hoover in his 1993 book, “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” said there was no ambiguity about the FBI director’s sexual proclivities.

“What does Clint Eastwood know about it?” he asked Summers collaborated with historians and conducted 800 interviews for the book, including nieces and those who were young enough at the time to have known the man personally.

“We were able to get a close view of the man as an individual and as a human being — as close as anybody who had not been afraid of him since he died,” said Summers.

With interest in the Eastwood film, publishers in the U.S. and in Britain are issuing a remake of the book.

One medical expert told Summers that Hoover was “strongly predominant homosexual orientation” and another categorized him as a “bisexual with failed heterosexuality.”

J. Edgar Hoover with child film star Shirley Temple. Getty Images

Hoover often suppressed his urges, but would break out in lapses that could have destroyed him — alleged orgies in New York City hotels and affairs with teenage boys in a limousine, according to interviews conducted by Summers.

“He was a sadly repressed individual, but most people, even J. Edgar Hoover, let go on occasion,” he said.

Hoover as a Cross-Dresser Is Controversial

One short scene in the film showed the FBI director in anguish over his mother’s death, putting on her dress and beads, a nod to Summers expose that Hoover had been a cross-dresser.

The Washington Post recently dismissed that account because of a discredited source, but Summers maintains he had two other independent sources from different periods in Hoover’s life.

Hoover often frequented New York City’s Stork Club and one observer — soap model Luisa Stuart, who was 18 or 19 at the time — told Summers she saw Hoover holding hands with Tolson as they all rode in a limo uptown to the Cotton Club in 1936.

“I didn’t really understand anything about homosexuality at the time,” said Stuart. “But I’d never seen two men holding hands. And I remember asking Art [Arthur] about it in the car on the way home that night. And he just said, ‘Oh, come on. You know,’ or something like that. And he told me they were queers or fairies — the sort of terms they used in those days.”

Hoover promoted men inclined to homosexual indiscretions, including Tolson, who had barely 18 months experience with the FBI when he became Hoover’s deputy.

The pair used to make “saucy jokes” about some of the other agents, like Melvin Purvis, who was a hero for arresting John Dillinger, according to Summers.

Purvis’s son shared his father’s 500-letter correspondence with Hoover, who teased the good-looking, blond-haired agent as “the Clark Gable of the FBI,” even though he was heterosexual.

Many were intimate and one was highly charged with innuendo, as Hoover referred to himself as the “Chairman of the Moral Uplift Squad.”

Ethel Merman, who had known Hoover since 1938, knew his sexual orientation, according to Summers. In 1978 when the actress was asked to comment on Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign, Merman told the reporter, “Some of my best friends are homosexual. Everybody knew about J. Edgar Hoover, but he was the best chief the FBI ever had.”

Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations, confirmed that Hoover and Tolson sat in boxes owned by and used exclusively by gay men at their racing haunt Del Mar in California.

“They were nodded together as lovers,” he told Summers.

Another FBI agent who had gone on fishing trips with Hoover and Tolson revealed that the director liked to “sunbathe all day in the nude.” Even novelist William Styron told Summers that he once spotted Hoover and Tolson in a California beach house — the director painting his friends toenails.

But, according to Summers, “Nobody dared say anything, he was so powerful.”

The author interviewed the widow of respected Washington, D.C. psychiatrist Dr. Marshall de G. Ruffin, who treated Hoover in 1946 after his general practitioner had been “puzzled by a strange malaise in his patient.”

Monteen Ruffin told Summers that Hoover was “very paranoid” about anyone finding out, and he eventually stopped seeing the psychiatrist. She said her husband burned the evidence.

“He was definitely troubled by homosexuality,” she said in 1990, “and my husband’s notes would have proved that … I might stir a kettle of worms by making that statement, but everybody then understood that he was a homosexual, not just the doctors.”

As the movie depicts, after Hoover’s death, his loyal secretary Helen Gandy destroys the “official and confidential” files.

When Hoover died in 1972, President Richard Nixon ordered his “dirty tricks man” Gordon Liddy to scour the FBI director’s office for files. But when they arrived, someone had taken “drastic action,” said Summers. Nothing but tables and chairs remained.

Summers said he is often asked, but rarely answers the question about what he personally thought of Hoover as a human being.

“Yes, I had sympathy for somebody who has to bury their real preferences through a long life in the public eye,” he said. “But not sympathy for the way in which he was dictatorial, the way he behaved politically and personally to people right from the beginning in his late teens and early 20s.

“He was totally self-serving and the way in which he was a repressed homosexual didn’t require him to abuse individual rights and human liberties the way he did,” said Summers. “It does not begin to justify his behavior toward blacks and concoct an anonymous letter to Martin Luther King and suggest he end it all and kill himself.”

Psychiatrists have concluded that Hoover “no doubt” had a narcissistic personality disorder, perhaps because of his dependency on a forceful mother who had “great expectations for her son,” he said.

“Studies suggest that people with such backgrounds block their feelings and cut meaningful relationships,” according to Summers, who said Hoover would have been a “perfect high-level Nazi.”

However, Eastwood, who is a Republican, contends that J. Edgar Hoover was “probably good for the country,” and whether he was homosexual or not makes no difference.

“I don’t really know and nobody really knew,” he told ABC. “It’s definitely a love story. You can love a person and whether it goes into the realm of being gay or not, is here nor there.”

A younger generation of gays was moved by the film precisely because it portrayed such an iconic figure’s struggle with his sexuality.

“The audience I was in clearly rooted for Hoover to be gay and to have happiness in his sex and love life,” said Ben Ryan, a 33-year-old novelist from New York City. “In a pivotal scene between DiCaprio and Hammer in which the two men engage in the classic brawl-leads-to-furious-kiss, everyone got so excited when they finally locked lips.”

“Anyone in their right mind would see this movie and say, ‘Oh, well, of course Hoover was gay,'” he said. “The more suspicious among us might think that the filmmakers were still afraid of Hoover’s ghost suing them for libel if they just put it right out there that he was gay.”

Still, he said, the film is a “tragic story that should hopefully teach society lessons about how dangerous sexual repression is.”


The Knick’s Gory History Is Super Real

I have just finished a second viewing of the 2 seasons of The Knick…I saw it originally when it was first released. It is, despite the gore aspect, addictive viewing even the second time around. My only complaint is that it had no further seasons.

With cocaine-addled doctors, botched C-sections, a suicide before its first 15 minutes are up: The Knick , Cinemax’s new series from Steven Soderbergh, is only one episode old, but the 1900-set drama about the invention of modern medicine has already proved to be nearly as mesmerizing as it is gruesome. This summer has been full of ambitious scary-gross new dramas, like The Strain and The Leftovers, of which The Knick is only the latest. The Knick, however, is made all the more fascinating by the fact that its depictions of disease, gore, and immorality are all inspired by real events.

According to The Bowery Boys blog, The Knickerbocker, the hospital from which The Knick derives its name, was a real New York hospital that operated from 1862 to 1979 in Harlem. The institution went through several names throughout its existence. It started as a hospital for northern Civil War veterans known as the Manhattan Dispensary. By 1895 the building had been rechristened J. Hood Wright Memorial Hospital, and in 1913, its name was finally changed to the Knickerbocker, a moniker that stuck until a few years before its closing, when it was renamed the Arthur C. Logan Memorial Hospital.

Hello, Name & Location Change

So the Knick actually existed during the time of the Cinemax show, but it didn’t get that name until 13 years later. Beyond that, there are other differences between the fictional hospital and the actual Knick. For one, the show is set way downtown in the Village, whereas the historical hospital is located at Covent Avenue and 131st Street, at the opposite end of Manhattan. Today, the Knickerbocker building is an apartment complex for senior citizens, according to Bowery Boogie.

But There’s Plenty of Truth

But despite these editorial changes, much of The Knick is based in fact. As in the show, the Knickerbocker was a hospital serving primarily poor and immigrant patients, the Bowery Boys report. And Clive Owen’s character, Dr. John Thackery, is based in part on an actual person, Dr. William Stewart Halsted, who invented many new surgical instruments and techniques in the early 20th century and, like Thackery, was known to be addicted to cocaine and morphine, according to the Johns Hopkins Institute. Of course, these substances were not illegal at the time, but that doesn’t exactly mean they were safe to use while operating on other people.

All About Algernon Edwards

Another aspect of the show that is historically accurate is its portrayal of racism among the hospital’s staff. It is established from the first episode that Thackery opposes integration, and he refuses to work with a new black doctor, Algernon Edwards. The Bowery Boys report that the real Knickerbocker had a similar policy regarding African-Americans, often refusing to treat them, despite the hospital’s mission to serve those who could not afford to pay for medical care.

In coming episodes of The Knick we’ll see André Holland’s character, Dr. Edwards — the only black doctor at the hospital — attempt to treat African-American patients in secret. The first African-American to ever earn a medical license was James McCune Smith in 1837 — but Smith was trained at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, because no American college would admit him, according to PBS. In The Knick (which is set 63 years after Smith became a doctor) Edwards went to Harvard (which graduated its first black student, Richard T. Greener, in 1870). But before starting at the Knick, the fictional Edwards had only previously practiced medicine in Europe, because American hospitals refused to hire him, which lines up with his onscreen incarnation.

The Bottom Line

It’s still too early to tell if The Knick is worth watching all the way through, or if it doesn’t deliver the quality to justify its graphic content. But having such an extensive history behind the show’s concept does make me more interested in seeing where this season goes. And the fact that Soderbergh is at the helm can only mean good things for the show. Maybe he can even get his old pal Channing Tatumto drop by for a scene — in one of Thackery’s opium-fueled hallucinations, perhaps?

How Accurate Is The Knick’s Take on Medical History?

Here’s what’s fact and what’s fiction in The Knick’s take on medical history.André Holland and Clive Owen inThe Knick. Photo by Mary Cybulski.

Steven Soderbergh’s new cable series The Knickwhich premieres Friday on Cinemax, aims not so much to be a medical drama as to be a social panorama of New York in 1900. A fictional hospital, the Knickerbocker, led by its chief surgeon, John Thackery (Clive Owen), feels like both a beacon of turn-of-the-century progress and a shocking house of horror. There are three deaths within the first 10 minutes, yet it is an age of “endless possibilities,” Thackery informs us early on. “More has been learned about the treatment of the human body in the last five years than in the last five hundred.”

The show’s producers have emphasized their desire for historical authenticity and the great lengths taken to replicate surgical procedures with accuracy. Much of their staging came from consulting records in the Burns Archive, an impressive historical collection of photographs and medical history materials curated by Dr. Stanley Burns, a doctor who also served as medical adviser for the show. But the world of The Knick is better seen as an image of history refracted in a funhouse mirror than as an accurate snapshot of medical progress and society in 1900. What is accurate, and what is exaggerated on The Knick? I consulted several medical historians and papers to find out.

John Thackery (Clive Owen) and William Halsted

Left: Clive Owen in The Knick. Right: William Stewart Halsted.Photo (left) by Mary Cybulski/Anonymous Content (right) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Owen has said that the show’s writers based the drug-guzzling John Thackery on William Halsted, one of the most important figures in modern surgery. Halsted is credited with performing the first emergency blood transfusion in the United States, and with revolutionizing the way surgery is taught and practiced as a meticulous, scientific discipline.* In 1889, he was a founding professor, along with three colleagues, of Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he headed the department of surgery. He did struggle, as Thackery does, with cocaine addiction—the result of experimenting with the drug as an anesthetic for surgery. Still, it’s unlikely he would have been impressed with the cavalier demeanor his fictional counterpart exhibits in the operating theatre. A reclusive, somber man, “Halsted subordinated technical brilliance and speed of dissection to a meticulous and safe, albeit sometimes slow, performance,” in surgery, says the Sabiston Textbook of SurgeryHalsted’s principles for surgery—which insist on gentle, careful technique—were developed in the 1890s and are still followed today.

Surgery at the turn of the century

Photo courtesy Mary Cybulski/Cinemax\

By 1900, surgery had become more commonplace and acceptable than The Knick implies. In the first episode Thackery, reflecting on his beginning at the hospital, tells his predecessor: “You are legitimizing surgery, taking it out of the barbershops and into the future, and I want to be part of it.” In real-life 1900 New York, on the other hand, surgery in a top-flight hospital would probably have lost much of its old unsavory image as a practice of crude butchery. Between 1880 and 1890, approximately 100 new types of operations were conceived, made possible by progress in anesthetics and antisepsis discovered in the latter part of the 19th century. A later episode in which a man is taken to a drunken barber for an amputation seems implausibly anachronistic. Other small anachronisms seem to be included for dramatic effect. For example, the show depicts surgeons performing operations barehanded, rather than with rubber gloves, which Halsted and his colleagues began using in the late 1890s.

Hospitals at the turn of the century

The late 19th and early 20th century saw an incredible rise in the number of hospitals in the United States. Quality varied greatly, says Peter Kernahan, a medical historian at the University of Minnesota, as all that would be required was a house with some beds and funds to start one. A 1910 book written by a surgeon who had spent time at New York and Washington Heights hospitals, Medical Chaos and Crime, caused a sensation by purporting to document gross misconduct in hospitals—drunken night nurses, greedy superintendents, and incompetently trained surgeons. The money pinching and bribery depicted on The Knick might have occurred even at reputable hospitals.

The body trade

As greedy as some hospital workers may have been, a lurid black market cadaver trade could not have existed as it does on The Knick. (Not least because an early scene has a doctor declaring that “Other hospitals may frown on studying the dead, but I believe it is the only way to advance our knowledge of the living”: Human anatomical dissections date back to ancient Greece; doctors in 1900 would certainly have been doing them.) It’s true that cadavers would have been a commodity in demand, says Michel Anteby of Harvard Business School, and fresh ones were better for study than older, decaying ones. So one might think that an ambulance driver on the lookout for a business opportunity would be in a prime position to deliver (for a good fee) luckless patients who did not survive the journey to a hospital.

But Kernahan notes that it’s unlikely this happened in 1900 New York City: New York was one of the first states to pass “anatomical acts” in the mid-19thcentury, to discourage body snatching and the inappropriate sale of cadavers. Under such laws, only bodies left unclaimed by friends and loved ones could be used for medical studies. Beginning in the 1830s, these acts also helped provide anatomists with “a steady supply of free cadavers, … rescuing the profession from the taint of association with unsavory lower-class body snatchers,” writes Michael Sappol in A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Social Identity in Nineteenth Century AmericaFor ambulance drivers in 1900, brokering a trade in cadavers would have been a dubious way to get rich (though, interestingly enough, there is a cadaver shortage today).

Black surgeons

Algernon Edwards (André Holland) in The Knick.

For a hospital that is supposed to be on the cutting edge of surgical history, the Knick is a strangely conservative one with respect to many medical practices and attitudes. What’s truly (but anachronistically) progressive about the hospital is that it’s the first in New York to hire a black doctor. In real-life New York, this didn’t happen until 1920, with the appointment of Louis Wright at Harlem Hospital, on which occasion several hospital surgeons resigned in protest.

If Edwards has a historical model, it is likely Daniel Hale Williams, a pioneering cardiac surgeon, and founder of the first hospital with an integrated staff—Provident Hospital in Chicago—in 1891. In the real-life history of integration, it was a black doctor, not white benefactors, who led the charge.


Top 10 Bizarre Aspects of Catholicism

The Catholic Church claims that it is the oldest Christian Church in the world, dating back to Jesus himself. In the time that the Church has been on earth, many unusual traditions have arisen. While most of them seem perfectly normal to Catholics, to non-Catholics they often seem outright bizarre. This is a list of the ten most bizarre aspects of Catholicism. In no particular order

10: Stigmata

Saint Pio of Peitrelcina

Stigmata is when a person has unexplained wounds on their body that coincide with the traditional wounds that Christ had. In some cases the wounds can appear in only one or two of the areas, but there have been instances of it occurring in all five places that Christ was wounded. The wounds can cause considerable pain which has been known to worsen on certain religious feast days. There have been occasional cases of falsified stigmata in the past and some people claim that even those which are not proven to be falsified are somehow part of a hoax.

The photograph above is of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Canonized in 2002) who is the most recent stigmatic in the Catholic Church. Saint Pio is the latest in a long line of famous stigmatics – the most famous of whom is probably St Francis of Assisi. Writing to his spiritual director, Saint Pio said:

Then last night something happened which I can neither explain nor understand. In the middle of the palms of my hands a red mark appeared, about the size of a penny, accompanied by acute pain in the middle of the red marks. The pain was more pronounced in the middle of the left hand, so much so that I can still feel it. Also under my feet I can feel some pain.

It is also alleged that Saint Pio was able to bi-locate (appear in two places at once) and to read the sins on a person’s soul

9: The Cilice

A cilice is an item worn on the body to inflict pain or discomfort for the sake of penance (remorse for your past actions). Originally a cilice was an undergarment made of rough hair (such as a hairshirt) or cloth. In recent times it has been seen as more discreet to wear a chain which has spikes on it. Contrary to popular belief, the cilice does not break the skin – it merely causes discomfort. It is usually worn around the thigh.

The Catholic Encylopedia of 1913 says:

“In modern times the use of the hairshirt [(cilice)] has been generally confined to the members of certain religious orders. At the present day only the Carthusians and Carmelites wear it by rule; with others it is merely a matter of custom or voluntary mortification.”

In recent years the cilice has gained a great deal of publicity due to the book The Da Vinci Code in which it is worn by the main antagonist of the story – though in the story it is exaggeratedly described as causing wounds. Wearing the cilice has always been an optional practice for Catholics. Some famous people in the past to have worn them are Saint Thomas More and Saint Patrick.

8: The Flagrum

The Flagrum is a type of scourge with small hard objects attached to the length of its cords. It is traditionally used to whip oneself (self-flagellation) and is most commonly found in conservative religious orders. The flagrum is held in one hand and thrown over the shoulder in order to cause the cords to strike the flesh. The purpose of self-flagellation is voluntary penance and mortification of the flesh (a safeguard against committing further sins).

The most famous Saint to use the flagrum is probably Saint John Vianney, who would give his parishoners very light penances in confession and then flog himself in privacy for their benefit (it is believed by Catholics that acts of penance can be offered for the sins of other living people or the souls of the dead). When Saint John Vianney died, the walls of his bedroom had spatterings of blood on them from his extreme use of the flagrum.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“St. Peter Damian (died 1072) […] wrote a special treatise in praise of self-flagellation; though blamed by some contemporaries for excess of zeal, his example and the high esteem in which he was held did much to popularize the voluntary use of the scourge or “discipline” as a means of mortification and penance.”

Most Catholics who practice this form of discipline will not admit it publicly as it would be seen as a lack of humility that could lead to the sin of pride.

7: Confraternities of the Cord

The third, (and final) of the penance-related objects, the Confraternities of the Cord are groups who wear a knotted cord around their waist as a form of penance and in order to help prevent future sins. The cord can be worn loosely in remembrance of the Saint for whom the cord is named, or it can be worn tight enough to cause pain, as has been the case with numerous saints in history.

St Joseph, St Francis, St Thomas, and St Augustine, St Nicholas, and St Monica all have Confraternities of the Cord named after them. The Catholic Encylopedia says:

In the early Church virgins wore a cincture as a sign and emblem of purity, and hence it has always been considered a symbol of chastity as well as of mortification and humility. The wearing of a cord or cincture in honour of a saint is of very ancient origin, and we find the first mention of it in the life of St. Monica.

The various confraternities differ in the number of knots on the cord.

6: Relics

Relic of St Augustine

Relics are objects related to Saints. There are three categories of relics (from wikipedia):

1st Class

Items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints. Also, some saints relics are known for their extraordinary incorruptibility and so would have high regard. It is important to note that parts of the saint that were significant to that saint’s life are more prized relics. For instance, King St. Stephen of Hungary’s right forearm is especially important because of his status as a ruler. A famous theologian’s head may be his most important relic.

2nd Class

An item that the saint wore (a sock, a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc. Again, an item more important in the saint’s life is thus a more important relic.

3rd Class

Anything which has touched a first or second class relic of a saint.

In order to prevent abuses, Catholic Church law (Canon Law) forbids the sale of Relics (Can. 1190 §1). Catholics venerate relics in the same way as they venerate images, statues, and saints. This is often confused for idol worship, but veneration is actually the act of giving respect, rather than the act of worshipping which is forbidden. By canon law there must be a relic in the altar stone of any altar in a Catholic Church upon which Mass is to be offered.

5: Indulgences

Catholics believe that when a person sins, they have two punishments to suffer – eternal (Hell) and temporal (punishment by suffering on earth or in Purgatory). Indulgences are special actions that a person can perform in order to reduce or remove the temporal punishment they are owed. The idea behind it is that certain acts of holiness can take the place of punishment. Indulgences must be declared by the Pope.

There are two types of indulgence: Plenary (removes all temporal punishment) and partial (removes some punishment). A partial indulgence can be for a specific number of days or years. Some indulgences only apply to the souls in Purgatory but any personal indulgences can also be offered for those souls, rather than your own. An example of an indulence is: “An indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, is granted to the faithful, who devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the departed. The indulgence is plenary each day from the 1st to the 8th of November; on other days of the year it is partial.” (from the Enchiridion of Indulgences).

During the middle ages, a number of Bishops and Priests, seeking to make money, told people that they could pay for indulgences. This abuse partly contributed to the sparking off of the protestant reformation. While the Catholic Church tried to suppress this behavior, it took a great deal of time for the traffic in indulgences to stop completely.

It is quite common for the Pope to announce new indulgences from time to time, to mark special occasions – such as the Jubilee in which Pope John Paul II granted a plenary indulgence.

4: The Real Presence

The Real Presence is the term used to describe the bread and wine in a Catholic Mass. Catholics believe that after the words of consecration have been spoken by the Priest, the bread (host) and wine change their substance to become the body and blood of Jesus. It is considered by Catholics, therefore, to be appropriate to worship and adore the changed objects. This is often seen as idol worship by non-Catholics as they do not believe the change of substance has occurred.

Because of this belief, Catholics have a special ceremony called Benediction, in which a consecrated host is placed in an ornate case called a monstrance and the people are blessed with it and kneel and pray before it. you can see an image of Pope Benedict XVI blessing people with a monstrance here.

An interesting side note is that it is believed that the modern term “hocus pocus” comes from an aberration of the words used by a priest at the moment of the consecration, in which he says: “Hoc est enim corpus Meum” meaning “for this is My body”.

3: Exorcism

Exorcism is the practice of evicting demons or other evil spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed (taken control of). Solemn exorcisms, according to the Canon law of the church, can only be exercised by an ordained priest (or higher prelate), with the express permission of the local bishop, and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness. The Catholic Encyclopaedia says:

“Superstition ought not to be confounded with religion, however much their history may be interwoven, nor magic, however white it may be, with a legitimate religious rite”

During the ritual of exorcism, the priest commands the devils within the body of the afflicted to leave and uses a number of blessings with Holy Water and oils. To listen to two authentic recordings of exorcisms, visit the Top 10 Incredible Recordings. Of interesting note, the Catholic Church gave permission for a priest to appear in the film The Exorcist on the grounds that is was true to the methods used by the Church to determine whether an exorcism is warranted. A much more indepth article on exorcism including audio, videos, and images can be found here.

2: Papal Infallibility

Venerable Pope Pius XII

Roman Catholics believe that, under certain circumstances, the pope is infallible (that is, he can not make a mistake). The Catholic Church defines three conditions under which the Pope is infallible:

I. The Pope must be making a decree on matters of faith or morals
II. The declaration must be binding on the whole Church
III. The Pope must be speaking with the full authority of the Papacy, and not in a personal capacity.

This means that when the Pope is speaking on matters of science, he can make errors (as we have seen in the past with issues such as Heliocentricity). However, when he is teaching a matter of religion and the other two conditions above are met, Catholics consider that the decree is equal to the Word of God. It can not contradict any previous declarations and it must be believed by all Catholics. Catholics believe that if a person denies any of these solemn decrees, they are committing a mortal sin – the type of sin that sends a person to hell. Here is an example of an infallible decree from the Council of Trent (under Pope Pius V):

If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ, but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema.

The last section of the final sentence “let him be anathema” is a standard phrase that normally appears at the end of an infallible statement. It means “let him be cursed”.

1: The Scapular

The Scapular is a type of necklace worn by many Catholics. It is worn across the scapular bones (hence its name) and it consists of two pieces of wool connected by string. One piece of wool rests on the back while the other piece rests on the chest. When a Catholic wishes to wear the scapular, a Priest says a set of special prayers and blesses the scapular. This only occurs the first time a person wears one.

For wearing the scapular, Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, will ensure that they do not die a horrible death (for example by fire or drowning) and that they will have access to a priest for confession and the last rites before they die. As a condition for wearing the scapular and receiving these benefits, the Catholic must say certain prayers every day. The Catholic Encyclopedia says this:

According to a pious tradition the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Simon Stock at Cambridge, England, on Sunday, 16 July, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said: “Take, beloved son this scapular of thy order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant”. 

The brown scapular, known as the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the most commonly worn scapular, though others do exist. When the scapular is worn out it is either buried or burnt and a new one is worn in its place.