Recently Jeff Belanger sat down for an exclusive Interview with Santa Claus. This piece aired on PBS affiliate WGBY in Springfield, Massachusetts. Legend hunter Jeff Belanger asked Santa about his upbringing, history, and life. This guy is the real deal!
This short series details adventures during a trip to Egypt in February 2009. The first installment is about my time in Luxor, where I had a bizarre encounter with a statue that first appeared to me in a dream.
I had a horrible dream my second night in Cairo. In it, an animated statue with a large, crustacean-type lion’s head was chasing me. Half alien, half Pharonic-crytoid, it scurried after me in an unidentified American suburban home. After I managed to escape to the lawn, I turned back to see it peering from a second-story window. The dream itself was strange enough, but I was even more self-conscious to find I could not shake the fear upon waking. My heart was actually palpitating, seemingly taunting me for my foolishness. This was my only certified nightmare since childhood, and I felt deeply embarrassed about the whole incident. Scary dreams are for the realm of children, not sane adults.
Later that morning, we boarded a flight to Luxor where the famous Karnak Temple and the gateway to the Valley of the Kings are located. Luxor sits on the Nile and is deeply reminiscent of the type of Egypt that exists in the minds of most Westerners. Lush jungle hugs the Nile, quaint agricultural villages are peppered along the riverbank, and the air smells like burning hay. Once we checked into our hotel, we ventured to Karnak Temple and secured a friendly guide name Amir, also employed with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities (informed English speaking professionals can make good money as guides, and they often provide insightful information). My agenda for the visit was to research Islam’s take on jinn interdimensional beings mentioned in the Qu’ran. While Egyptian Pharonic history is fascinating, I immediately cut to the chase and told Amir I wanted to know about jinn. With only two days in Luxor, there was no time to waste. I was jinn-tripping.
We entered the grand Karnak temple and, after stepping over several complacent dogs randomly splayed out in the midday heat, I quietly corned Amir.
“So…are there jinn here?” I asked.
I’ll tell you about jinn,” he said, but first let me tell you about history.” He wore Ray ban sunglasses and had a thing for Pharaohs. He took us to the map and spent five minutes detailing the genealogy of Ra and Amun. Finally, he serendipitously looked around and whispered, “I’ll take you to the place of jinn.”
I am a white American woman, but being Muslim has it advantages when carousing about in the Muslim world. One benefit is sometimes seeing things normally off limits to Westerners. Egypt was no exception. My husband and I got in to all attractions as “locals,” bypassing the foreign rate. No one questioned when we ventured in restricted areas with Amir. He proceeded to take us to a remote edge of the Karnak compound closed to visitors. We walked some distance from the main area to an unassuming temple protected by two guards in gallebaya (kaftans) and turbans. Amir stopped to identify a statue from the time of Alexander the Great, then opened the door to a small, dark room with a tiny window.
In the corner stood the exact statue from my nightmare.
“Oh my God!” I bellowed. Amir was clearly pleased although ignorant as to why I reacted so strongly. Nothing was frightening or scary about the statue. I was floored, however, to have experienced one of the most profound precognitive events of my life. There stood a nine-foot statue of Sekmet, a lion headed goddess that was once head of a cult in the Lower Egyptian Delta. Her deity has undergone many different incarnations, being everything from the Goddess of War to the Goddess of Blood, including menstruation. She represents the sun and its destructive force although healing properties are attributed to her likeness. And there she stood, Sekhmet, an exact replica of the demon in my childish dream. She made a grand entrance. Unfortunately, I was horribly dressed at the time.
Amir explained her history and indicated some still come to the temple to pay homage. He claims red lights appear in photographs beside the statue (sorry, Amir, but I’m sure they are just dust orbs), and dared me to remain alone for a half an hour. He indicated one is to be quiet while in the temple. After these required moments of silence, Amir says visitors have heard disembodied voices. I had my digital audio, camcorder, and electronic magnetic field detector with me. Unfortunately, my short visit proved uneventful in terms of evidence, but the two guards shared their personal anomalous experiences at the site. During the heat of the day, they sometimes go into the much cooler temple to nap. Both claim to be occasionally grabbed and “choked” while with Sekhmet.
I had no knowledge of Sekhmet or the fact we would have access to the restricted site. The significance of the dream, provided there is one, I have yet to discover. Magic and mythology dictated daily life in Pharonic Egypt, and a little bit of it spilled over into my own legend tripping! I now have a cool story to tell.
Next installment: My encounter with a mummy while in the Valley of the Nobles.
Deonna Kelli Sayed is a writer and cultural commentator. Her forthcoming book, Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits (September 2011, Llewellyn) is a cultural studies discussion on the impact of paranormal reality TV on American society and the paranormal community. Learn more about Deonna at www.deonnakellisayed.com, and follow her on Twitter @deonnasayed
*Jinn is normally spelled as djinn (singular) and djinni (plural). To avoid linguistic confusion for readers unfamiliar with Arabic, I opted to drop the “d”.
**In 2006, archeologists discovered drunken sex fests were held during the reign of Hatshepsut, the lady who cross-dressed as a King, who ruled for 20 years from 1479 BC. Sekhmet’s deity was a “girls gone wild” kind of deal, and a precursor to the Bacchus. I am not suggesting this interpretation has any personal significance regarding my dream, unfortunately.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, is known for its century-old charm and its ghosts. But tucked in the woods just down the hill sits a small pet cemetery. Jeff goes legend tripping in search of the graves.
This Seattle, Washington legend goes back to around 1993 outside of the Market Theater. At first employees tried to scrape off the gum, then they just gave up and let the mess become an attraction.
The Butterworth building was one of the original mortuaries in Seattle. Built in 1903, thousands of bodies made their way through this building in the early twentieth century. On the ground level sits Kells Irish Pub. For years employees have reported ghostly happenings throughout the building. Jeff goes legend tripping on the fourth floor in search of what might be lurking.
A recent legend tripping expedition to an abandoned crematorium deep in the woods of Westborough, Massachusetts. The crematorium was once used by Westborough State Hospital for the Insane.
According to a WBTV report, on August 27th around 2:30 AM, a group of about a dozen people went legend tripping on a train trestle near Buffalo Shoals Road in Statesville, North Carolina. The group were looking for a ghost train that is said to pass through every August 27th. The legend is based on a real event: On August 27, 1891 around 2:00 AM, a train accident left twenty people dead after the train derailed off the bridge and fell to the creek below. For years people have reported that the train accident replays itself on the anniversary. Each year legend trippers make a pilgrimage to the site in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the ghost train, this year one legend tripper paid with his life.
According to the WBTV report, 29 year-old Christopher Kaiser was killed when he was struck by a real train that passed through around 2:30 AM. The dozen witnesses were on the trestle when they heard the train. All but Kaiser were able to get out of the way in time. According to the local Sherriff, the group believed the train they heard coming to be the ghost train and not a real one.
This is a tragic event, of course. We would hope that anyone would bring their common sense to any legend tripping outing. Precautions like checking train schedules or staying clear of the tracks would have saved a life on August 27, 2010. But the most interesting aspect of this story is that the death will not diminish this legend, nor deter future legend trippers from coming to this site. In fact, if anything this death will expand this legend and make it more popular.
WBTV called me for a comment on this legend the afternoon after the accident. In any legend tripping outing the legend tripper becomes part of the story. Just by being in the location we write ourselves into the narrative. But Christopher Kaiser has now become a permanent part of the legend. Passenger train No. 9 from 1891 has just claimed another victim more than a century after the accident. Next year I would anticipate legend trippers will be showing up in greater numbers to try and catch a glimpse of the ghost train, and perhaps the ghost of its latest victim.
Decades from now through the natural folklore process, perhaps the legend will evolve further. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day people claim a man was actually killed by the ghost train on the anniversary of the accident and not the Norfolk-Southern Railroad freighter that actually did take Kaiser’s life. Legends grow and evolve, but at their root is always a nugget of truth.
The element of danger, the supernatural connection, and the thrill of the trip will keep us hooked on legend tripping. This event is tragic, our condolences go out to Kaiser’s friends and families. He died legend tripping. And the Ghost Train of Statesville will keep rolling on.
In the annals of phone-prank history, few names are as renowned as “Richard Hertz.”
10-year-old phone prankster calling local tavern: “Yes, can you please see if Mr. Hertz is there? First name, Dick.”
Unsuspecting barkeep: “Yeah, hold on a minute… Hey everybody… is Dick Hertz here? Dick Hertz?!”
Hilarity ensues and the angry barkeep slams the phone down. When one can combine an inherently funny name with a real and ironic-sounding location, you have what we in the business call “comedic gold.”
Person at a party: “So… You’re Dick Hertz from Holden?”
Dick Hertz from Holden: “Yes.”
Over the last few decades, Dick Hertz from Holden has taken on legendary (albeit urban legend) proportions with people claiming that their friend went to college with Mr. Hertz from Holden, that their cousin used to date Hertz, their friend-of-a-friend knows Richard, and on and on. Our crack team of legend researchers wanted to settle this important debate, so we checked into it. The United States has been keeping census records since 1790, and the details of those records can be searched all the way up to 1930 (because of a federal privacy law, only records older than 70 years may be searched). Though several records for “Richard Hertz” turned up in some other Worcester County towns, there were none in Holden for the time period between 1790 and 1930. Further, Directory Information can confirm that there is no Richard Hertz currently living in the town of Holden. And a scan of Massachusetts Motor Vehicle records can confirm that no Richard Hertz has lived in Holden for as far back as their records go.
Conclusion: Dick Hertz—not from Holden.
Jeff Belanger cruises Route 59 in Easton, Connecticut, in search of the “White Lady of Easton,” who has been spotted in and around Union Cemetery.