The Alaska Triangle

Most everyone has heard of the Bermuda Triangle—an area of the Atlantic Ocean where numerous ships and planes have mysteriously disappeared. I wrote a blog post about five planes, known as Flight 19, that vanished there in 1945.

However, did you know there is a similar phenomenon in Alaska? It seems there are also many mysterious happenings in our largest and northernmost state.

The Alaska Triangle is located in a vast and largely untouched wilderness. It stretches from Anchorage, southeast to Juneau, then to the north coast city of Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow). The area has some of North America’s most unforgiving wilderness.

The Alaskan Wilderness area near Denali National Park (Public Domain)

In October 1972, a small private plane carrying House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, Alaskan Congressman Nick Begich, an aide named Russell Brown, and bush pilot Don Jonz vanished on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau.

An extended search consisting of fifty civilian planes, forty military aircraft, and dozens of boats searched a 32,000 square mile area. They found no trace of the plane, wreckage, or debris.

Strangely, this wasn’t the first disappearance in the triangle. In 1950, a military aircraft with forty-four passengers disappeared without a trace. In 1990 a Cessna carrying four passengers vanished.

These mysterious disappearances are strangely typical of this area, and they aren’t uncommon. Since 1988 more than 16,000 people have vanished there. This amounts to an annual rate of about four missing persons for every 1,000 people in Alaska. More than twice the national average.

An aerial view of Denali’s summit. Creative Commons photo by unagiinu via Wikimedia Commons

There are many theories for these unexplained vanishings—everything from aliens, to swirling energy vortexes, and even a shape-shifting demon known in Tlingit Indian lore as Kushtaka. Some attribute the vanishings to cryptids that supposedly live in the area.

A more scientific explanation is geography and climate. Alaska is also known for extreme weather conditions, including avalanches. While it’s easy to imagine hikers wandering off trail and succumbing to the elements, how do you explain the disappearance of aircraft?

Again, science has an explanation. The state’s massive glaciers contain giant holes, hidden caves, and crevices large enough to swallow a plane.

But isn’t it more intriguing to consider the other possibilities?

Sally Carter’s Grave

Hey, everyone. This month’s Legends and Lore post takes place in the state of Alabama.

Huntsville is a city in Alabama, located in the hills north of the Tennessee River. Its population is around 215,000, making it the most populous city in the state. Founded in 1805 as Twickenham, it was renamed Huntsville in 1811.

Today Huntsville is a thriving city with its main economic influence from aerospace and military technology. The Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are located there.

Historic rockets in Huntsville (Public Domain)

But the modern city also has its share of legends and folklore, one of them involving the ghost of Sally Carter and Cedarhurst Mansion.

Stephen Ewing built Cedarhurst as part of a larger estate in 1823. It didn’t take long before tragedy struck the home when Mary Ewing’s sister, Sally Carter, came to visit.

Sally, just three weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday, took ill and died on November 28, 1837. She was buried in the family cemetery on the estate grounds. The epitaph on her tombstone read:

My flesh shall slumber in the ground

Till the last trumpet’s joyful sound

Then burst the chains with sweet surprise

And in my savior’s image rise.

Stories say Sally loved the estate and that’s the reason some say her presence is still there today. The legend began in 1919 when a seventeen-year-old boy visiting from nearby Dothan slept outside Sally’s bedroom. There was a storm during the night (yes, a dark and stormy night). The teenager claimed to have dreamed Sally visited him and asked him to prop up her headstone.

When he awoke the next morning, he told his family about the dream and said he was going to visit Sally’s grave. Strangely enough, Sally’s tombstone had toppled over during the storm.

Other stories claim Sally still walks the halls and grounds of Cedarhurst Mansion. A guard claims to have heard Sally walking upstairs one night. After her shift ended, the guard realized she had lost some money while doing rounds. After searching the grounds in vain, the guard gave up on finding the money. It was then she heard footsteps following her and her flashlight began flickering. When she returned to the guardhouse, the flashlight flickered brightly and shone directly on the cash she had given up for gone.

Another person who knew both families who lived in the mansion had a friend who slept in Sally’s room. The friend said doors opened and closed by themselves, covers were snatched off the bed, and lights turned on and off.

Other women claimed they had jewelry broken in the area of Sally’s room, with beads scattered everywhere.

Mapel Hill Cemetery, Huntsville. Creative Commons photo by Lonely Pilgrim via Wikimedia

The stories drew much attention and many visitors to the area, especially to see Sally’s grave. In 1982, the family had her body exhumed and relocated to an undisclosed location in Maple Hill Cemetery.

Today, Cedarhurst Mansion is now a part of a gated community with the home serving as a clubhouse. Sources say Sally’s bedroom has been preserved, but visitors aren’t allowed. Those wishing to catch a glimpse of Sally can always purchase one of the many condominiums.

A rather expensive price just to see a ghost, don’t you think?

The Bell Witch Legend

Many areas in the southern United States are rich with stories about hauntings and superstitions. Several of my ancestors who lived in Northern Alabama passed down many stories of hauntings, folklore, and unexplained events to younger generations.

The legend of the Bell Witch is a tale of American Folklore from the state of Tennessee. The legend supposedly attracted the attention of then future president General Andrew Jackson.

Like many legends, there are varying accounts as to the identity of the Bell Witch and the purpose of her visits.

John Bell, along with his wife and children, moved from North Carolina to Robertson County, Tennessee in 1804. The Bell Farm comprised 320 acres of rich farmland along the Red River. For the first thirteen years, the family lived a peaceful life. They attended the Red River Baptist Church, where John Bell became a deacon.

A Tenneesee Historical Commission Marker near Adams, Tennessee. Photo by Brian Stansberry, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the summer of 1817, events happened that changed the lives of the Bell family. Some of them began seeing strange looking animals around the property. Knocking sounds on the doors and outer walls of the house came late at night. Sounds of rats gnawing on bedposts, chains dragging through the house, and stones being dropped were heard. These strange occurrences culminated in the sounds of someone gulping and choking.

The terrified family kept their problems a secret for over a year. Finally, John Bell confided in a neighbor, James Johnson. He invited Mr. and Mrs. Johnson to spend the night. After witnessing these strange occurrences, Mr. Johnson suggested more people needed to know.

Before long, people came from miles around to see and hear the unknown force that terrorized the Bell house. I find it interesting that as more people came, the unseen entity developed a voice. When asked, the voice gave different identities. The spirit once stated it was the witch of a neighbor woman named Kate Batts. From then on, people called the entity, “Kate,” the “Bell’s Witch.”

There are differing accounts of Kate’s reasons for visiting the Bell family. Even on the farm’s website (now a popular tourist attraction), the reasons vary.

Some say Kate wanted to kill John Bell. She also wanted to stop John’s youngest daughter Betsy from marrying a neighbor boy named Joshua Gardner.

For three years, “Kate” tormented the Bell family almost daily. John and Betsy received the worst physical abuse. Betsy’s hair was pulled, she was pinched, scratched, and stuck with pins.

John Bell suffered from spells of swelling of the throat. He later developed twitching and jerking of his facial muscles. Kate would blast him with curses and hideous threats during these spells. As time went on, John Bell became weaker and weaker.

Kate finally accomplished her mission when John Bell died in December 1820. The following March, Betsy broke off her engagement to Joshua Gardner.

Sources say Kate said goodbye, promising to return in seven years. Supposedly, she returned in 1828 for a few short weeks to the home of John Bell Jr. where she had several long talks with him about the past, present, and future. Kate also said there was a reason for his father’s death, but she never stated what it was.

Again, there are discrepancies. One account says Kate Batts was angry with John Bell, believing he cheated her in a land deal. On her deathbed, she vowed to haunt him and his decedents forever. Other accounts say the voice said, “I am a spirit. I once was very happy but have been disturbed.” The spirit gave diverse explanations of why it appeared, tying its presence to the disturbance of a Native American burial ground located on the Bell Property.

After “Kate’s” second visit, she vowed to return in 107 years. That would have been in 1935. However, some believe she never left the area.

The legend, along with numerous tales, continued into the twentieth century. There are many skeptics, and some who knew Betsy suspected her of fraud. One skeptic, Ben Radford, said the Bell Witch story is important for all paranormal researchers. “It shows how easily legend and myth can be mistaken for fact and real events and how easily the lines are blurred when sources are not checked.”

Regardless of skepticism, The Bell Witch Legend is a part of Tennessee history and is still taught in schools today.