Sunday, November 15, 2009

Freaky Indiana - A Pleasant Ramble

So I'm doing some research for our new avatar WoD campaign (if you don't understand the terminology then you might want to stop now, as everything I'm saying after this will only make less sense) and as such I am looking up haunted places here in Bloomington where the campaign will be set. I must say, it is quite interesting to see the local folklore splattered around the internet.

I'm a devoted Alvin Schwartz reader; his folklore collections of grisly ghost stories amused me on one level as a morbid kid, and in later years I enjoyed the same stories as an aspiring social scientist. Most folklore horror stories are cheap cautionary tales, paradoxically relying on the tittilation of the forbidden to keep the listener interested enough to scare them away from the forbidden. So to me the Ghost stories that have the most credence are the ones that don't fit an easy moral answer i.e. 'Don't Commit Suicide Or You Will Walk The Earth Forever Freaking People Out.' But there are a lot of ghost stories around the state and they are going to provide some rich fodder for my campaign.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few of the more interesting ghost stories with You, my Nonexistent reader, and expound on them, both for campaign purposes and sheer academic curiosity. I also thought I'd add a few of the tales that circled through the state in my youth, the ones I heard by word of mouth but that have never been posted to the internet. Then I'll add a small bit of personal lore from one of my own freaky experiences here.

The first is the Stepp Cemetary where all manner of weird sightings have occured. The ghostly hauntings are interesting in and of themselves, but what I found most fascinating is the bit about the cemetary's foundings and it's connections with a cult of "Crabbites" that worshipped in a way that involved snake handling and sex orgies. Now there's an organized religion I can get behind! In any case, it sounds like a bunch of Deep Ones to me. Try as I might I cannot find references to the Crabbites in any quasi legitimate news media or police report. But this one is just begging for a WoD conversion-a cult of perverted "Deliverance" style fomori practicing secret Crabbite rituals to raise a Shoggoth to earth-now that sounds like fun.

The Read dorm haunting is a rather classic ghost story, of a girl's scream being heard on the anniversary on her suicide. This one goes around the undergrads a lot; I heard at least three different iterations of it while I was in college. I've found no official record of this girl's suicide and neither has Alvin Schwartz; still the story lingers, possibly because it is fun to tell and it freaks out naive freshmen. This one might not be campaign worthy but I can still use it for flavor or a wild red herring chase, since it is a very popular tale.

IU Career Center is another classic example of a morality tale-gruesome Dr. Frankenstein performs illegal abortions in what used to be a medical building and now screaming women and children can be heard in the building after dark. Again, no official record-but if I had a random guy performing illegal D&C ops on frightened slutty sophomores in my basement, I'd probably bury the records as well. Unfortunately for the legend I also have no record of a medical facility existing on the spot. The thing that gives this great WoD potential however is the existence of an aborted fetus umbral monster-a great challenge for spiritually enabled PC's and a great source of disturbing imagery.

There are two Freak tales that I didn't find on the intrawebz anywhere, both of which I heard growing up. The first is local to lovely Lodi, Indiana and the second is a tale about Salem, Indiana about a site I've never visited.

The Swell (local terminology for a swamp) is near Lodi, Indiana, and is, quite charitably, a smelly, muddy, dead tree dotted eyesore overflowing with moss and trash carp. The Swell Monster, quite predictably, is said to dwell within. My grandpa first told me the story as it was told to him; that is, some kids went swimming in the malodorous swamp water and one of them was sucked under and bitten by a naked guy with a deer's head. Why anyone would want to go swimming in that reeking pesthole I will never know, but there you have it. I also heard some kids I didn't know talking about how the Swell Monster would get the youngest one, as they swam in a large creek nearby. This sounds like a shifter enemy du jour to me, and at some point we will probably visit scenic Lodi and have the PC's deal with this weird, silly looking monster once and for all.

In addition, there is the Salem story about The Vampire Cage. I heard this story off a weird body piercer I used to know, and have heard it from another guy since. Supposedly, there is this rusty cage off in an abandoned playground near Salem, IN. Otherwise unremarkable, it is supposed to have a curious property-if you get inside it after midnight, it will remain shut until dawn no matter what you do. The local kids go there to get drunk and dare one another to get inside. This just screams 'Lost Magick Talisman' to me and sounds like a pretty efficient way to get rid of vampires to boot-they are stuck there till dawn where they roast alive. Good times. I'm not sure how I can really make a story out of this, but it definitely doesn't sound like the usual 'Murderer gets what he deserves at last' morality tale.

My final bit is a personal one, and is easy to discredit. The location: Chelsea, IN, a postage stamp by anyone's standards. My fascination with abandoned houses leads me and Jake to visit one way out in the boonies at night while tripping balls. We had previously been to this location several times with other friends during the daylight. Interestingly enough, the layout seemed slightly different each time-interior doors in the wrong places, discovering outbuildings that we hadn't seen before and would have had to walk through to get to the house, and an overall bad feeling whenever inside. Now I know what you're thinking-two freaky rpg gamers with a head full of acid have a 'paranormal' experience and off this weird runs to the interwebz with the story. But that night we went there, got inside, and absolutely nothing makes sense. The two story house suddenly had four flights of stairs, and there were no exterior doors at all once we shut the front door behind us. We found rooms filled with wrestling magazines and at least a dozen expended shotgun shells that we had never found before or since. There was an occasional but very loud chitinous giggle in several rooms. We were stuck in that motherfucking house for almost six hours and completely unable to find a way out. Yeah, I understand-head full of acid, our judgement was impaired, couldn't possibly happen, etc. But I haven't been back to that place since. I don't really plan on using that experience in gaming-I don't want to revisit that place, even in fantasy. The deed for the house is registered to an out of state new york trust. At one point, we seriously considered going back to burn the place down.

That's really all I've got, although stretched properly that could be campaign fodder for at least nine or ten good sessions. But don't let that fool you, we are really a placid and nonthreatening state. Just watch out for those fucking Crabbites.


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  2. Otherwise known as the Church of the First Born, the Crabbites seemed to have been mythologized as such because of a colorful and virile character named William Crabb, who was supposed to have been their Reverend.