Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Friday, October 30, 2009

ghost hunter

Join reporter Jason Lea, guest blogger who’s just back from a ghost hunt in Ohio’s Hocking Hills..

I’m standing in Ash Cave — the biggest recess cavern in the state — and holding a Geiger counter.

It’s night, so I can hear the waterfall but not see it. I also can’t see most of my companions or the guide who brought us here.

If it were day, or if I had more light than a few lanterns scattered throughout the cavern, I’d be able to see the series of cliffs that lead to Pulpit Rock, which towers over the cavern.

Pulpit Rock is so named because pastors used to stand on it and preach to their congregation who would gather on the cavern floor below. (Tecumseh supposedly spoke there once.)

But there are no churches tonight. In fact, during the dark ages, people were burned at the stake for what we’re doing.

We’re on a ghost hunt.

Pat Quackenbush is a skeptic by nature. He’s a naturalist for Hocking Hills State Park in southern Ohio and quick to tell people that a shrieking noise they heard is more likely a barn owl than a phantom.

But he’s also heard his share of ghost stories. He’s heard about the dead mother who shouts the name of her lost son near Rose Lake and the spectral Oldsmobile with a flat tire that patrols Ash Cave. He’s even seen a woman wearing a 1920s dress who joined one of his Ash Cave tour groups and mysteriously disappeared.

“Not to scare you, but she likes groups,” he warns.

He’s not kidding either.

Quackenbush works with the Haunted Hocking Hills group investigating ghost stories in the area. They’ve searched Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Conkle’s Hollow, the Moonville tunnel and Rose Lake. The hunts lookfor different energy types that might indicate paranormal activity. This means they scour the supposedly haunted areas with everything from electromagnetic field detectors to dousing rods (better known as divining rods.)

Hence, my Geiger counter. I’m searching for nuclear energy and finding nothing.

A few of my companions get excited when a compass shifts suddenly atop Pulpit Rock. They think it’s a ghost. Quackenbush suggests that it’s more likely the iron oxide in the cavern. Just to be safe, he snaps a photo with his camera, which is customized to take photos in infrared.

Hocking Hills has its share of scary stories. The Moonville tunnel is thought to be haunted by a brakeman who was struck by a train in the 1800s. Ghost stories about those who fell to their deaths in Old Man’s Cave proliferate. Conkle’s Hollow is thought to be haunted by its namesake, William Conkle, and the Shawnee who lived there before him. The now closed asylum in nearby Athens is supposedly still visited by posthumous patients.

The Haunted Hocking group formed to investigate some of these stories. They spend a lot of their time debunking myths — Quackenbush told us about one time he identified a pair of “fairies” as flying squirrels — but they’ve also seen some things they can’t explain.

Vortices rising from a lake, compass needles spinning like a top, unseen voices shouting the name of a child who died in the same place half of a century earlier — the Haunted Hocking group document the phenomena on their Web sites and let people draw their own conclusions.

The Geiger counter doesn’t register anything, neither does the EMF, but the magnetic tools — the compass and divining rods — have some minor reactions inside Ash Cave.

“No ghosts,” I snicker.

“Not tonight,” replies Cole Quackenbush, Pat’s 14-year-old son. He’s as certain about ghosts as my little sister is about Santa or Richard Dawkins is about evolution. Other people on the Haunted Hocking team are more skeptical, like his father.

As our tiny group returns to the parking lot, we walk slowly and close together. It’s not just because it’s raining either. The slightest noise stops us, and we search the trail, looking for a woman in a pale dress.

“Scared?” Cole teases me after one such stop.

We didn’t see any inexplicable floating orbs or hear any disembodied voices while scouring Ash Cave. This isn’t a skeptic-turned-believer story. I still don’t believe in ghosts.

But if I were to ever meet a ghost, it would probably be in the dark of Ash Cave on a rainy, cold October night.

I know I wouldn’t be the first.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mentor's Moreks and the Blarney Stone

“Today we took a walking tour of Kinsale, a lovely seaside town,” writes Debra Fitzgerald. “We have the most delightful group of people.”
We're sharing this blog with the tour she and husband Tom are escorting in western Ireland. They're the same folks who operate Fitgerald's Irish Bed & Breakfast in Painesville.
Seven members of the Morek family of Mentor are among the 36 folks now traveling in western Ireland with the Fitzgeralds. In this photo the Moreks are seen in front of Blarney Castle.
After passing through the town of Clonakilty everyone had the opportunity to kiss the famed Blarney Stone — called the stone of eloquence.

The lushness of the landscape is apparent in this photo of Bantry Bay, where the group just spent two nights at the most southern point in Ireland.

Childrens Guild at Kirtland Country Club

Fall color blazed the way into Kirtland Country Club for the annual Children’s Guild craft show on Tuesday, a benefit for northeast Ohio children’s charities. The 74-year-old guild brings together 47 area artists and crafters who meet in each other’s homes throughout the year to create gifts, children’s items, edibles, jewelry and holiday decor for the sale — its major fundraiser.
“Our members include professional artists and hobbyists,” said Guild spokeswoman Kathy Mahovlic.
After being called to their tables by the club’s Chad striking a four-note xylophone, a seated breakfast of chicken crepes and fruit salad was served to 280 women.

They gathered at elegantly napped tables in the ballroom and on the balcony at the country club. Two adjacent rooms were filled with tables showcasing the items that would go on sale from 11:30 to 2 p.m.
“We expect to sell 95 percent of what we have here,” Mahovlic said. “Anything remaining will be donated to a church holiday bazaar so the church can benefit.”
The group’s signature beads — a brightly crocheted necklace — were worn by several women and displayed on stands offering them for $20 each.

A winsome Beatrix Potter knitted mouse doll was accompanied by a shawdowbox house telling one of the stories. Wonderfully colorful tutus, sure to be the envy of any little girl, awaited purchase for would-be ballerinas, as did an orange and brown gingerbread house with a Halloween theme.

Jams, candies, and confections joined dozens of stocking stuffer gifts for friends and little ones.

The Cleveland BoyChoir, directed by Brooke Hopkins, sang on the balcony then moved downstairs as the breakfast was served. The choir was the recipient of a $7,000 donation from the guild that was raised from its summer golf outing.
“We could not exist without the support of organizations like this,” Hopkins told the group. “Through the discipline and music education of its regular rehearsals and concerts the BoyChoir opens doors to boys from third grade through high school.”
Mahovlic can answers questions about the Children’s Guild at 440 256-8844

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fitzgeralds and gang in Ireland

Debra and Tom Fitzgerald are now in Ireland with 38 folks who signed up to share with them a visit to the rural west coast, where the scent of peat fires, still used to heat, hangs heavy in the air. They're the Painesville couple who established their Fitzgerald's Irish Bed & Breakfast after falling in love with the land of their ancestors on several bicycling trips there. Now they take others to Ireland, departing Thursday for their most recent journey.
I invited them to share by email some of their experiences and agreed to post it to my blog. Here's what they've written:

We arrived safely on Friday morning and although we got a rainy start at the Cliffs of Moher, it turned out fine. We ferried across the Shannon River on the Tarbert
Ferry, stopped in Listowel for lunch, then arrived in the center of Dingle where we're staying at The Benners Hotel, where we had dinner after an afternoon of naps and individual explorations.

The next morning, we arrived in shifts at the Dingle Music School to learn to play the bodhran, the traditional Irish drum. Our education into Irish music surprised us with the news that the bodhram was introduced
in the 1950’s.
After lunch and some free time, we toured around the Dingle Peninsula to Slea Head, one of the most beautiful locations in all of Ireland. At the end of our bus tour we stopped at the Dingle Crystal factory for a personal demonstration by
the owner, Sean Daly, a former Waterford Crystal master cutter.
Afterwards, we could not resist the temptation to own a one-of-a-kind
pieces of Irish crystal. With the closing of Waterford Crystal last January, Sean
is one of just a few crystal artists remaining in Ireland. After dinner we went
to a local pub for traditional Irish music.