As a suspense author, my mind tends toward the creepy. Many of the places on my bucket list (other than Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey was filmed) are either strangely horrifying or have a historical tie to some famous murderer or other. Here are my three favorite places that have made appearances in my stories thus far. If the books get published, you’ll have a better mental picture of the settings I describe.
3. Meramec Caverns
Meramec Caverns in Missouri get a shout out in the book I just finished. Even though I don’t get to mention the history of the cave network in my story, I’ll share a little tidbit with you. Rumor has it Jesse James and his gang hid out in one of the caves for a while.
2. Starvation Heights
The Purple Nightgown releases in March 2021, and it’s set in Olalla, Washington. It’s a beautiful area near the Puget Sound, but the history is unsettling. I won’t give you any spoilers, but this abandoned cemetery plays a role in the story.
Central State Hospital- Milledgeville, Georgia
The history of this abandoned asylum is terrifying. It was originally called the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Mental Asylum. I’ve included a fair amount of detail in my book, Faces which finaled in the 2020 Genesis contest. I’ll keep this post short by simply saying that the patients were treated inhumanely, and people who believe in ghosts claim it’s haunted.
What are some places you’ve read about in books are were shocked to learn they were real?
A new year is upon us. For some that means making resolutions that will last until sometime next week. For others that means pulling out a Twinkie and a Coke and laughing at those who are trying once again to turn over a new leaf. Maybe you’re one to make resolutions and like Kelly from The Office, you plan to get more attention by any means necessary. Maybe you’re like Creed and want to perform the perfect cartwheel (and your idea of perfect is a little ambiguous.)
Statistically, losing weight is the most common resolution made this time of year. Couch potatoes flock to gyms and produce sections for their annual appearance–much like the one day in February that Punxsatawny Phil pokes his fuzzy head out of his burrow to tell us if we have a whole six weeks left of winter or if there are only six weeks left of winter. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that kind of the same thing? Seriously, there is no way for this groundhog to fail. How does one find a job like this?)
If you are the type to make resolutions, I’d like to caution you not to go overboard like British sisters, Claire and Dorthea Williamson did at the turn of the century.
Claire and Dorthea were orphaned by a wealthy father, and their inheritance left them more than comfortable. Still, money doesn’t buy happiness. But it can put you on the road to good health, and as far as the Williamson sisters were concerned, that was almost the same as happiness. While summering at the Empress Hotel in British Columbia, they stumbled across an advertisement for Linda Hazzard’s book, Fasting for the Cure of Disease. While neither sister was sick, per se, they did suffer from rheumatism and swollen glands at times. #thestruggle
In a quest for health, the sisters had already given up their corsets and eating meat. (I understand the corset burning, but nobody better come between me and my steak.) When the Williamsons realized Linda Hazzard ran a clinic for natural health in Olalla, Washington, they packed their bags and checked themselves in, determined to undergo what Linda Hazzard referred to as ‘the most beautiful treatment.’
Set in the lush Washington countryside, Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Theraputics’ scenery was almost as inviting as the promises of improved health. They dreamed of breathing in fresh air, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and sampling the homemade broth Linda Hazzard promised contained healing properties. But when they arrived, Linda informed them that the sanitarium was undergoing renovations and wasn’t ready for their extended stay. Instead, they were put up in a Seattle hotel where she began feeding them broth made from canned tomatoes. One cup twice a day was all the food they were allowed. In addition to the meager portions, they were also given daily enemas in the bathtub that lasted hours on end. (If you don’t know what an enema is, ask your mom. But whatever you do don’t watch the YouTube videos unless you’ve got a strong stomach than I do.) When the girls grew weak and fainted, canvas supports were brought in to hold them up for their ‘treatment.’
By the time the facilities were ready for patients two months later, Claire and Dorthea Williamson weighed just 70 pounds according to a concerned neighbor. Unfortunately, the Williamson family was unaware of the sisters’ stay at the Hazzard Institute. More than once they’d discouraged the girls from extreme health fads, and since they’d manage to rain on this parade too, Claire and Dorthea kept their newest health resolution to themselves. Their childhood nurse, Margaret Conway, who was visiting family in Australia received a mysterious telegram. The message contained nothing but gibberish and only a few words. Concerned, she hopped on a boat to the Pacific Northwest to check on Claire and Dorthea.
While on her way to the Hazzard Institute, Margaret ended up on the bus with Sam Hazzard, Linda’s husband. (As an aside, Sammy Boy served jail time for bigamy after marrying Dr. Linda. Yeah. He was a real peach.) While on the ride to Olalla, Sam dropped a truth bomb. Claire was dead. Dr. Linda Hazzard later explained her passing as the result of a course of drugs administered to Claire while she was still a child. Hazzard believed the drugs had shrunk Clair’s intestines and caused cirrhosis of the liver. According to the good doctor, Claire was too far gone by the time she arrived at the Institute for the ‘beautiful treatment’ to do her any good.
Now, Margaret wasn’t a doctor, but the whole think made no sense. Claire had been healthy and vibrant before her stay at Hazzard’s Health Institute. How could she be dead? When she stopped at the Butterworth’s Mortuary to view Claire’s body, it didn’t even look like the woman Margaret used to know. The hands, face, and hair color looked like they belonged to a different person. After her trip to the funeral home, she hurried to the sanatorium to check on Dorthea. Shock set in when her gaze fell on her former charge. Weighing in at 50 pounds and with bones jutting out at every joint, Dorthea was little more than a shell of her former self. Strangely enough, Dorthea Williamson didn’t want to leave, even though she was obviously starving to death.
When Margaret tried taking matters into her own hands, she was distressed to find that Linda Hazzard had been appointed executor of Claire’s fortune and sole guardian of Dorthea. In addition to Linda raking in the Williamson inheritance, Dorthea had declared Sam Hazzard her legal power of attorney. The Hazzards had helped themselves to Claire’s clothes and around $6,000 in the family jewels. As cringey as it sounds, Linda Hazzard gave her report on Dorthea’s mental state while dressed in Claire’s clothing. Talk about sick.
Nothing Margaret said could convince Linda Hazzard to let Dorthea go. Linda flashed her dark eyes and shook her head, perhaps conjuring a curse in keeping with her rumored dabbling in the occult. Was she hypnotizing her patients. Were they so helpless under her control that they were willing to sign their lives away then starve themselves to appease her?
Finally, Dorthea’s uncle, John Herbert, came to the rescue. He payed Linda Hazzard $1,000 to free his niece. With Miss Dorthea Williamson safely away, Herbert started investigating Dr. Hazzard’s deadly sanitarium. He found his nieces weren’t an isolated case. In fact, Hazzard was connected to several deaths of wealthy people. People who had signed their fortunes over to her before dying of starvation. In total, the death count at Linda Hazzard’s health spa is guessed to be around twelve, though some believe the number is significantly higher.
In 1911, Linda Hazzard was tried for the death of Claire Williamson. Nurses and servant from the facility testified against her, claiming the Williamson sister cried out in pain during treatments, suffered through never ending enemas, and were forced to take scalding hot baths. Not only was she accused of physical starvation, but financial starvation as well. There were also unproven allegations that Hazzard had a little side deal with Butterworth’s Mortuary and had swapped Claire’s body for a healthier one to hide just how shriveled the poor woman had become.
Linda Hazzard never took responsibility in any of the deaths on her watch. She believed that dying during a fast was the result of organic imperfections. Not starving. So basically, anyone who died, must have an underlying condition that would have killed them anyway. She believed the trial was a battle between traditional medicine and her more natural methods. However, the jury didn’t think Claire had an underlying condition. They found Ms. Hazzard guilty, sentence her to hard labor, and revoked her medical license. While on the chain gain for two years, Linda fasted to show the validity of her methods.Then, for some strange reason, the governor of Washington pardoned her.
In 1920, Linda Hazzard returned to Olalla to build her dream sanitarium which she referred to as a ‘school for health.’
In 1935, the health institute caught fire and burned down. Three years later in her early 70s, Linda fell ill and started a fast to get herself back to health. It didn’t have the effect she’d hope, and she died soon after. Today, ivy scaled ruins of the Health Institute are all that remain of Linda Hazzard’s dreams of better health for the masses and a chubby pocketbook for herself.
So, friend, if you want to kick off the new year with fresh health goals, I’m proud of you. But please, don’t go to extremes. Don’t strive for perfection at any price, because history has taught us that the price could be too high.