Pennies from Heaven

Of course, it is part of what I do, but do any of you also hear of stories, or have your own, about finding pennies unexpectedly? Pennies that have some meaning or connection to a loved one that has passed on?

You never know when or where you’ll find them and the placement, the date you find it or the date on the coin can all be signs that a deceased loved one is contacting you.

It could also be a guardian angel saying hello or a message from a spirit guide. The use of small symbols or signs (feathers, number sequences, dragonflies, etc.) is one of the more common ways of signaling a warning, a visit or, especially if it’s money – a sign that you’re valued.

The pennies, or signs, often appear in unusual places, but a signal that you’re not alone, will often quickly become apparent once you pause long enough to examine the symbolism or significance of a penny or some other sign.

The reason coins are often used are many – money is obviously a way that humans communicate value. We exchange it for time, goods, services, etc., but it is also something easily manipulated by angels, spirits or other paranormal/spiritual beings.

There is a term, apport, which in the spiritual or paranormal community, is an article that has allegedly been transferred or made to appear from an unknown source. Dimes as well as pennies are common “apports.”

Here are a few instances of folks finding pennies in unusual circumstances…

One such instance brought great comfort to a lady who found a coin on her deceased husband’s pillow, taking it as a sign that he was watching over her.

When a young woman moved in to her first apartment, she began finding pennies in the oddest places – between sheets of a newly made bed, in the bathtub and drawers, behind doors and in doorways. She could not make a connection to a loved one or a specific reason for them to appear.

Please comment if you’d like to share an experience that you’ve had!


Christmas 1944/45

The weeks leading up to Christmas of 1944 were an exciting, yet tense time for this family that I’ve been writing about. My uncle was headed overseas as a medic in the 66th infantry division of the Army. This was finally what he’d been preparing and training for for over a year.

There are no more journals, but we have all the letters he wrote home, so we can follow along with him as he’s making this journey and thinking about the upcoming holiday, not even knowing where he would be!

On October 28 he wrote home that he was sending money for his mother, asking her to please buy Xmas gifts for the family, as well as sending a package of things that he couldn’t keep as they were shipping out from Camp Rucker, AL. He mentioned he was glad that he was being allowed to keep his camera because he was hoping to get pictures of some “old stomping grounds” in Europe (see previous post). 

At sea, the next letter, much of which was censored – individual words and phrases meticulously cut out, was dated November 21. It mentioned that he’d had a portrait taken before sailing and had some Christmas cards made which he’d sent to friends and family. (see photo). He also told his family that he did not know where he was going.

Two weeks later on December 8th, he wrote from England, “I wish I could drop in on you for X-Mas dinner. Merry Christmas anyway. It is a cutting, wet cold here.” He mentions for the second time to please send bouillon cubes for something warm to drink.

At home, the family is making their own preparations – sending cards, shopping, making candy, wrapping, trimming the tree and of course, sending a package to their loved one overseas. A letter dated December 14, again from England, tells that he’s received his Christmas package from them and was very excited about a new pen, some ear muffs, and gum. “I don’t know what my Christmas will be like nor where I will be, but I will miss that Christmas dinner with all the folks and I’ll be thinking of you.”

Unfortunately, that was the last letter the family received. Their letters to him were returned and there was a notification that he was missing, with a final telegram arriving in early March confirming the worst. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944, the troop ship my uncle and hundreds of others were on was torpedoed just 5.5 miles off the coast of Cherbourg, France. It was an horrific situation, which I won’t go into here, but if you’re interested there is a book, A Night Before Christmas by Jacquin Sanders and various links on the web about the sinking of the SS Leopoldville.

My grandmother had a tradition of writing inspirational Christmas letters to her children every year and tucking them in the tree. In 1945 my aunt, age 16, wrote one to her mother, saying this is my first Christmas letter, “Everyone is rejoicing this year over the entire world peace, while we are in silent thoughts and cannot help but thinking back to that time 12 months ago. Bill was no doubt thinking of us and his home when the sinking occurred.” There was more to the letter, but she signed it from herself and her lost brother.

At that time, one year after his death, my grandmother started a new tradition of having an outdoor tree lit with all white lights in memory of her son who was lost to them on Christmas Eve. After she passed, my father continued the tradition and now, I also have white lights outside to honor my uncle whom I never knew.


Christmas 1932

We left my father’s family in New York in the last post – they are now, the following year, in Vienna, Austria. Through the Atlantic crossing, losing passports!, summering in Spain, finding lodging in Budapest, they arrived on December 1. In a rush to get on the road, most of the childrens clothes and worst of all, my grandmother’s freshly made nut fudge, was left behind! It was to have been a treat while traveling most of the day.

The family’s driver (seen in the previous post’s photo) traveled with the family the whole time – he was also an assistant in many ways and practically a member of the family. He was from the Basque country of Spain originally, which is why they spent time there, in Guernica, visiting with his family.

The market was the highlight of most days in Vienna, not only having exciting new things to see and explore, but especially at Christmas time! The first observance was made by my 10 year old uncle in his journal, “Christmas is different than in America – if you are bad, the devil comes and brings switches and no candy!” (See 2 posts previous to read about Krampus) Later on, my grandmother wrote about how the children were so fascinated by the pictures of him at the market. 

A small Christmas tree was found on December 11th and taken home to be decorated. My father made an ornament of St. Nicholas (see above) – I suspect most of the decorations were homemade and real candles were used for lights! Of course, gifts were purchased secretly at the market; there were mentions in journals of sweaters, vases, candies, and a coconut!

My father loved the roasting chestnuts from street vendors, some of which were used for the turkey stuffing on Christmas day – made with chestnuts, celery, bread, and mushrooms according to my grandmother’s notes. They had gotten the turkey at the market on Christmas Eve, along with fruit and nuts. 

Hot cakes were for breakfast on Christmas morning after checking to see whether Santa or Krampus had come to visit overnight! Apparently, the kids had been good because there were dolls and a fort (see photo below) in addition to the nuts and candies. My father gave his mother a sweet little vase (pictured above), but there was no mention of other gifts received. The whole family went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral for Christmas service later that morning.

The next 6 weeks were back to homeschooling for the kids, visiting many sites in the city, including the Spanish Riding School with the white Lipizzaner horses (which made a big impression on my father – so much so, I was inspired to do the same about 40 years later!). My grandfather continued his studying and observing at the hospital and my grandmother sewed herself a new brown dress. They made their way back to Le Havre, France to board the ship to take them back to America on February 22nd, 1933

Sign up or check back next week for one more Christmas post about this family – Merry Christmas!


Christmas 1931

Imagine being an 8 year old boy crossing the country by train, coming from a small western town to New York City. It must have been quite the adventure for him, his 9 year old brother, and sister of almost 4. They had even bigger adventures ahead of them – taking an ocean liner to Europe! Their next Christmas would be spent in Vienna.

The young boy carrying the tree is my father, the 8 year old boy. You can tell he’s proud to be charged with such an important task, while his sister blows on her horn and older brother is directing them. My grandfather is loaded with gifts, while my grandmother also has a few.

This card was drawn by my Great Aunt who was an art professor in Massachusetts, but had come to visit her brother and his family in New York. My grandfather had spent most of his life on the East Coast, including some time in New York and Philadelphia, so I’m sure he felt somewhat at home.

My grandfather, a doctor, was studying in New York for a semester, while heading to Vienna and Budapest to continue his work to specialize in Pediatrics. It was a grand plan to bring his family along and to take advantage of the opportunity to travel and show them some of the world. Having grown up with many of the stories, I do know that it certainly was a memorable time – so much so that my father took my mother and me to Europe on an adventure as well! His sister, the young girl in this adventure, also took her family to Europe at one point.

On the other hand my grandmother was a probably a bit overwhelmed, but as a young woman she had traveled alone from Kansas to upper state New York during WWI and then to rural Nevada. The plan was to meet up with the love of her life at his small practice in a mining town and to eventually marry, which they did! She was full of adventure and very capable of managing the children, travel, etc. when needed. She also was in charge of schooling for the children, other than a few months of elementary school on Staten Island, where they were living during this Christmas of 1931.

Most of the family kept journals of their trip, but they did not begin until 1932. I do know that my grandmother loved to make candy, especially Christmas candy, so fudge, divinity, rocky road, penuche and more would have been something they experienced. She loved making candy with her father and family as a girl in Kansas and continued the tradition well into her 70’s.

Stockings were hung by the chimney with care, I am sure, and during these times, an orange in the toe, some nuts and a small toy or two were probably the extent of goodies. A goose or turkey for dinner, perhaps roast beef, with some of the same side dishes that some of us continue to have almost 90 years later would have been on the table. I certainly wish my father were still here to share more of his memories.

Part II, Christmas 1932 and Part III, Christmas 1944/45 to follow over the next couple of weeks. Sign up to follow this blog to make sure you don’t miss the next posts!


Krampus… and more

I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of Krampus until a few years ago. Santa Claus – yes, the Grinch – yes, but a half-goat, half-demon Christmas figure?

Apparently, he’s been around for centuries, just like good ol’ St. Nick! And, as is the way with folklore, they’ve both morphed and adapted with the times.

St. Nicholas was actually a Bishop who became the patron Saint of children (among others) and therefore evolved into a kind, jolly man who might bring gifts if children are well behaved. St. Nicholas is celebrated in many parts of the world on December 6, not at Christmas as we in America do.

St. Nicholas Day is a feast day and often involves parades and other such celebrations. The night before, December 5, is when the children can expect to receive some goodies if they’ve been exceptionally good over the past year. In The Netherlands, children put their shoes outside the door for St. Nicholas to fill with sweets and presents. They also leave hay or carrots for his beautiful white horse. Does this sound familiar?

But let’s get back to Krampus – he is usually brown or black and hairy, with horns. In Eastern and Central European folklore he is St. Nicholas’ companion, bringing coal or switches to the naughty children. Sometimes he carries chains, which he rattles to scare the youngsters into being good.

Taking this one step further, December 5th has become known as Krampusnacht in some countries – Krampus Night – as that’s when he will come around to the houses leaving coal or switches, and in some cultures, even taking the bad children away! Since the 1800’s Krampus greeting cards have been exchanged, often using humorous rhymes or poems to lighten the scary character drawings on the front.

Continuing to morph or evolve, in folklore of The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Indonesia and some areas of the Caribbean, St. Nicholas’ companion is “Black Pete” rather than Krampus. He is thought to be a former slave that St. Nicholas freed or a chimney sweep that is covered with soot – hmmm…. coming down the chimney? He also brings coal and switches to the naughty children and might take them away in the burlap bag he carries with him. In these cultures, poems are also used to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on December 5/6.

Hopefully in 2020, Krampus or Black Pete will understand that the world has suffered enough and only goodness and kindness will be spread on December 5/6, December 25 or any other day that you might celebrate.


Friday the 13th and Superstions

When I was growing up… step on a crack – break your mother’s back, lucky rabbit’s foot, a 4 leaf clover, wish upon a shooting star, and crossing your fingers were the most common superstitions that I remember. As a young child, these were not known as superstitions but just part of my culture – like covering your mouth when you yawned or saying excuse me if you interrupted or bumped someone.

Of course, having a black cat cross your path or walking under a ladder were known, and growing up in a ranching community, a lucky horseshoe was very common!

I didn’t know it, but saying “God Bless You” or “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes is also a sign of superstition – it was originally said so the devil doesn’t steal the person’s soul, now just a wish of Good Health.

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I’d tell you about some other superstitions that I’ve learned about over the years.

Don’t go to the barber or hair salon tomorrow – it’s thought to be unlucky to cut your hair on Friday the 13th! Apparently, you shouldn’t cut your hair or nails on any night. Pirates felt it was unlucky to ever cut their hair, or their fingernails.

Sailors had/have many superstitions – one of them is to never set sail on a Friday. This apparently applies to any travel! Uh-oh weekend travelers, misfortune may occur…

If you do happen to be a sailor, or you’re embarking on a boat trip or cruise, be sure to board with your right foot first! Left foot first is considered unlucky – BUT, if you happen to be in France, it’s lucky to step in dog poo with your left foot – where do these things come from?!

Did you know that “knock on wood” came from the good luck fact that good spirits live in trees?

Itchy palms indicate that you have money coming your way, but did you know that an itchy right elbow signifies exciting news and if the left one itches, expect the opposite!

If your nose itches inside, trouble might be heading your way, but an outside itch symbolizes that someone, or something annoying is coming.

Did you ever get a chain letter? I remember a few when they were common – you must send this on to 10 others or the chain will be broken and you’ll have the bad luck!

We often hear of celebrities or sports idols wearing certain pieces of clothing, or colors for luck. Some folks wear or carry charms of sorts to help them along the way. I recently learned that carrying a cod head bone in your pocket is good luck – 2 from the same head is even better!

Does that sound strange? What about the wishbone from a turkey or chicken – the large end gets the wish when it’s pulled apart. Another one from childhood that I’d forgotten about!

When you wake up in the morning, remember to get out on the “right” side of the bed, so you’ll be assured of having a great day – Sleep Tight, Don’t let the Bed Bugs Bite! Oh, that’s for another post…


Once in a Blue Moon

This is the first time in about 19 years that we’ve had a full moon on Halloween, and it’s the first time since 1944 that a full moon will be seen in all time zones around the world on October 31st – extra creeepy!

We also have a rare “blue moon” on Halloween this year. According to NASA, “once in a blue moon” means something so rare that you might or might not see it in your lifetime. The next blue moon on Halloween will occur in 2039. This one is so called because it is the second full moon within a month – the first was on October 1st.

This Halloween full moon is also called a Hunters moon, a Travel moon or a Dying moon. The moon names that we might be familiar with – Harvest moon, Strawberry moon, Sturgeon moon were all named by Native Americans who used the moons to track the seasons and times for certain things such as hunting or strawberry picking.

A Hunters moon is self explanatory, while a Dying moon might also be – the time for the dying back of the crops after harvest. The Travel moon indicates the time of travel for the Native Americans who moved from place to place according to the seasons.

There are 2 different schools of thought on what a blue moon is – the second full moon in a month or the 4th full moon in a season. According to a 19th century Maine almanac, two full moons in a calendar month named the second as a “blue moon.” This was not commonly known until a radio game show in the 1970’s asked the question, with the answer of “a blue moon.”

The game of Trivial Pursuit, “Kids World Almanc of Records and Facts” (pub. 1985) and an article in a 1946 “Sky and Telescope” Magazine have all contributed to the term “Blue Moon.”

Blue moons are not really blue, unless there is smoke or a lot of dust particles in the air, such as during a volcanic eruption. During those times, the moon might take on a bluish hue.

The moon has always played an important part in the culture and lives of humankind. The moon’s phases helped people mark the passing of the seasons, as previously mentioned, but it also helped them plan for the future. Because the 13th moon was an oddity, there were many superstitions associated with it.

This rarity in the heavens became the basis for myths and legends, as well as superstitions all around the world. Some cultures considered the blue moon to be a trickster moon – a faker. Other cultures felt it was something to celebrate; something to aid in planning – to help predict the future.

I remember growing up with a full moon legend or two – one was about warts. I was told to take an old dishrag and bury it on the night of a full moon to get rid of warts. For a blue moon, you should blow on the wart 9 times during the blue moon to get rid of the wart!

Here are a few other superstitions surrounding the blue moon –

*pick flowers and berries during the blue moon to bring abundance and love into your life –

*looking at a blue moon, or having it shine on your face will bring bad luck; blinds should be closed during this time –

*if a family member dies during a blue moon, 3 more family members will follow –

*gangsters believed attempting a robbery on the 3rd day of a full moon will fail –

*a woman will be more fertile during a blue moon –

Enjoy this special time of all Hallow’s Eve, a Blue Moon, and a full moon. 2020 could not ask for anything more!


National Telephone Day

Where would we be without our phones? Especially these days, they are key to keeping people in touch with loved ones, health care professionals, stores and the outside world.

It’s always been that way, though to a lesser extent of course! I remember the emotion and excitement in my family when we were scheduled to receive a call from my brother serving in Viet Nam – what an amazing feat of technology!

You may have read a story that circles around on social media now and then about a young boy, decades ago, who was often home alone after school and had learned that he had a terrific friend and helper on the other end of the phone by dialing “O” for operator. She helped him with spelling words, first aid, geography and even pet questions. Later in life, he learned that he had made an impact in her quiet, lonely life by giving her something to look forward to.

All of these questions could now be answered with a quick call to Siri or the like, but the personal connection is not there. We can watch movies and the news, listen in on webinars and play games, read books and take classes, but these are mostly done in a solitary manner without personal interactions.

When we had to re-invent our Maine walking tour business at the outbreak of COVID19, we thought of options of virtual tours or videos, among other possibilities. Our choice was to utilize the power of the phone, but we felt strongly about keeping the personal connection; we did not want to offer a recorded tour. Thus, our private, live TeleTour walks were born.

While taking one of our TeleTour walks, you’ll have the opportunity to interact, ask questions, say “wait a sec, I need to tie my shoe” or let passers by pet your dog for a minute. Even though I am not there guiding you in person, I am there to point out interesting architecture, caution you on crossing a particularly dangerous street or suggest photo opportunities. You can ask for recommendations on where to eat dinner or how to spend your last afternoon before leaving town.

Of course, you’re also getting a very informative tour of one of 11 Maine towns! All of our walking tours are historically based, but we often add twists such as ghost stories, mysteries, secrets, legends, famous folks, etc. These have been the ideal way to deal with social distancing, yet allow for people to still experience something fun and different while on vacation, or staycation. 

So, Happy National Telephone Day from Red Cloak Tours and we hope to “see” you on one of our TeleTours soon!


Ghost Storytelling around the world

I learned something interesting the other day – something I kind of knew, but it inspired me to do a little more research.

Ghost storytelling around the world is very different!

I learned that now, mid-summer, is the most common time for ghost stories in Japan! Dating back to ancient times, it is believed that during summer the souls of the dead temporarily come back to this world. These spirits would include your ancestors, but also those who had no relatives praying for them as well as vengeful ghosts.

In some households the traditional custom of greeting your ancestors with a welcoming fire or altar is still practiced. Also during this summer season, ghost stories are told and plays are performed with themes developed from village folklore of unusual, other worldly stories.

The season is symbolized by these events used for interacting with the spirits of ancestors and taking pity on the unhappy souls. They say that telling the chilling tales also helps people to cool off in the summer heat.

This is similar to the Ghost Festival in China and some other East Asian countries. It is held on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The seventh month is generally regarded as the Ghost Month. At this time the deceased are thought to visit their living relatives.

Many cultural traditions are honored during the Ghost Festival. These can include preparing food offerings and having elaborate meals with empty seats for the visiting ghosts. Incense is burned to pay respects and sometimes paper boats or lanterns are released to guide any lost spirits.

Hawaiian culture also uses lunar phases to base their ghostly activities on. “Marchers of the Night,” spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors, appear at sunset during these specific times, usually around the new moon, and march from their burial sites to battlefields or other sacred areas.

The Nightwatchers arrival is announced with the beating of drums and blowing of conch shells. The warriors are carrying torches so they are usually seen from afar. Often fog, thunderstorms or high winds accompany them.

There are no festivals or celebrations surrounding the Nightwatchers; in fact, it is quite the opposite. No one should look at, or be seen by these warriors, according to Hawaiian legends. If a mortal should be accidently in the area, they should lie face down on the ground, motionless, to show proper respect and deference.

Hawaiian history, rich in mythology and folklore, is full of supernatural entities so the Nightwatchers are not the only ghosts of the islands.

I knew that in Victorian England, telling spooky stories around Christmas time was very common – I often hold some storytelling presentations during the holidays – but why is this?

The Winter Solstice, the longest and darkest day of the year occurs just days before Christmas and is a harbinger of the end, or death, of the year.

Many people focus on those no longer with us during the holidays and it makes sense to think that during this dark time of change to the new year that the dead might have a closer connection with the living.

Inuit stories are full of ghosts, monsters, shapeshifters and other paranormal entities. These tales are told year-round, day or night, by the elders of the community and are used as lessons for the children.

Also based on oral history, Jamaican Duppies often manifest in the form of a relative, and like Inuit folklore, are always present.

A Duppy may also manifest as a shadow, animal or material object so it is hard to know when one is present, though they only come at night. Here are a few ways to tell – if you smell food but there is none in the area, if you hear a stick break, if a dog whines or howls, if you have a spider web in your face.

Duppies are restless spirits and usually malevolent. They can be controlled in various ways which often involves using their grave dirt. They are said to live in bamboo thickets and the roots of cotton trees.

Here in the U.S., in spite of my line of work, telling ghost stories year-round, ghosts are generally thought of around Halloween, or All Hallows Eve.

The Halloween tradition stems from Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival held during harvest when people would wear costumes and light bonfires to ward off ghosts.

Other All Hallows’ Eve traditions can include lighting candles on graves, attending church, lighting jack-o-lanterns and eating certain vegetarian foods such as apples, potato pancakes or soul cakes.

Over the years, Halloween has become a time for trick-or-treating, parties and telling ghost stories. It is only about 3 months away, in case you’re counting!


Strange Cyphers

20200505_152817This is from a newspaper dating to 1931, figures that were found on the body of a woman floating in the surf off of Southport, Maine that same year .

There are many questions surrounding these cyphers, besides what they might stand for – why might the woman have wrapped the card they were written on carefully in waxed paper to protect them if she was going to commit suicide as the authorities believed?

Why did she, a woman in her 30’s, travel alone from the Philadelphia/New York area to the summer town of Boothbay Harbor, Maine in December of 1931?

What prompted her to rip the labels out of most of her clothing and also to remove labels from her prescription bottles? Did she even check in to the hotel under her real name, signing in as Louise Meade?

She was determined to see “the Rockbound Coast of Maine” according to witnesses. So much so, that she walked about 6 miles, in high heels, in December, without a coat, to get to the wild, open coast!

Found several days later with a belt buckled around her wrists and an early electric iron cord (with iron) and her pocketbook handles tied up, also.

Another mystery involves this finding – many folks saw her walking those 6 miles and she was not carrying a bag large enough to hold a heavy iron and she was not wearing a belt.

Yet, the local police determined that she had committed suicide and the case was closed.  The woman was buried in an unmarked grave in a local cemetery due to the generosity of the townspeople. Can you help us figure out what these numbers and letters might mean? Do you have a missing person in your family genealogy that might be “Louise”?