HBM108: Witch of Saratoga

Angeline Tubbs may have been as old as 104 when she died alone in the woods, in a hut she made with her own hands.  She came to America with a British officer who fought in the Battle of Saratoga (see HBM074: Benedict Arnold Makes People Nervous).

Content Note:
Language

It’s uncertain what happened to the officer, but soon after the battle, Angeline began living a hermit’s life, on the outskirts of society, alone in the forest with her cats. She foraged and hunted her food.  Only rarely did she venture into the newly forming town of Saratoga Springs, where she made money by telling fortunes.

On this episode, producer Alessandra Canario walks into the woods near where Angeline Tubbs lived and died. She builds her own shelter, makes a fire, and cooks her own food.  Alessandra wonders if she too might be a “witch,” due to a kinship she formed with trees as a child. But she also hears echoes of her mother’s warnings against being outside without a man for protection.

Alessandra Canario camps in a homemade shelter in the woods near Saratoga Springs, New York. Photo by Alessandra Canario.

Only known photograph of Angeline Tubbs. Circa 1860. Republished in the January 30th, 1959 issue of The Saratogan.

Producer: Alessandra Canario
Editor: Jeff Emtman
Music: The Black Spot | | | Serocell

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Video by Alessandra Canario.

HBM103: Fate's Notebook

Somewhere in Maritza Gulin’s basement, there’s a typewritten notebook that belonged to her father, Reynaldo. The notebook contains essential advice and warnings to Reynaldo, his wife Flora, and their five children.

Content Note:
Suicide, mental illness, animal sacrifice, language.

In his younger life, Reynaldo’s atheism was strong and biting. But chronic migraines would often flatten him for days at a time. A stranger approached Reynaldo one day on the subway to tell him that he’d always suffer until he got right with God.

Reynaldo subsequently became an adherent to two related Afro-Cuban* religions: Palo Mayombe and Santeria. Palo focusses on veneration of spirits of the dead and of the earth. Santeria focusses on a pantheon of demigods called “Orishas”, who are usually represented by equivalent Catholic saints.

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

The notebook in Maritza’s basement is notable for its specificity. When she recently rediscovered it, she found warnings for her father against eating beans, sleeping with all the lights off, a requirement for white pajamas, a prohibition on horseback riding. Reynaldo followed these rules. He believed in fate, and was pretty accurate at predicting the time of his ultimate death from old age.

Michelle Santana is a childhood friend of Maritza’s. She’s a psychic medium who’s not been formally initiated into Santeria, but she often consults the Orishas and the dead while working with her clients.  She’s done a number of readings with Maritza. Michelle, too, believes in fate, saying that, cruel as it seems, some people are just destined live bad lives, die young, and nothing can be done to change that.

Maritza’s youngest sister, Vanessa, was born when Maritza was already an adult, so Maritza helped take care of her youngest sister. Vanessa experienced severe depression, especially after the birth of her first child. She committed suicide.

After her Vanessa’s death, Maritza and her mother Flora lost their faith. They asked: if the future’s written, why weren’t they warned? Why weren’t they told either in the notebook or during their regular psychic readings. Flora says she’s mad at God. Maritza says she no longer believes in destiny.

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Despite this, Maritza still treads lightly around some of her father’s belongings. Some of this is due to respect for her father’s desires, and some of it is based on an abundance of caution. She recently deconsecrated a black metal cauldron that her father used in ceremonies. Michelle told her to bury it in her backyard or throw it in a river. Maritza did the former. Inside, she found a toy revolver, a pair of ram’s horns, railroad spikes, and other small items.

Santeria’s practice of live animal sacrifice wound up in the US Supreme Court in the early 90’s as Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, in which a city in Florida passed an ordinance banning the practice of killing animals “in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption”. The court ruled unanimously that this ordinance was unconstitutional, citing its attempt to restrict religious practice.

Producer: Jeff Emtman
Editor: Jeff Emtman
Music: Circling Lights, The Black Spot, Serocell

*Today, Santeria and Palo are practiced across much of the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. Other areas of Caribbean diaspora like Florida, New York and New Jersey also have significant populations of believers. However, solid numbers of followers are hard to estimate due to the religion’s decentralization, which also contributes to the varying beliefs across adherents of different origins. If you practice or used to practice Santeria/Palo/Ifa, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet at us @HBMpodcast.

If you are feeling suicidal, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help in the USA (phone: 1-800-273-8255). Outside the USA, consult Suicide.org’s list of hotlines. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, Postpartum Support International has links to local organizations that can help you.

HBM093: The Brain Scoop

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In school, Divya Anantharaman used to get teased for having long skinny fingers like ET.  But now she sees them as valuable asset for the intricate work she does.  Divya runs Friends Forever Taxidermy in Brooklyn, New York.  

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Content Note:

Fleshy Sounds

In this episode Divya carries a recorder with her while as she slowly disassembles a deceased pet parrot: snipping joints, scooping brains, removing eyes, separating the skin from the body. Birds’ skin is very thin—Divya likens the peeling to removing a delicate silk stocking.

Jeff Emtman edited this episode with help from Bethany Denton.  We found out about Divya through Erika Harada, another skilled artist in the Brooklyn taxidermy scene.  

Divya Anantharaman with a deceased Himalayan pheasant.

If you have an episode idea for us, please reach out via email, twitter, facebook, or instagram.

Music: Serocell (new album out!) and Phantom Fauna

HBM074: Benedict Arnold Makes People Nervous (Rumble Strip)

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There is an unusual piece of carved grey stone in the hills of upstate New York.  It depicts the boot of a notorious American villain who was shot in the leg during the Battle of Saratoga.  Major General Benedict Arnold’s name is nowhere to be found on the inscription.  Instead, it refers only to the "most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army”.  The rest is implied.

Steve Sheinkin thinks that we can’t—and don’t—talk about Benedict Arnold’s actual history because it serves Americans an unpalatable contradiction.  Benedict Arnold won crucial battles for American independence, but he was also a turncoat.  

Steve was often asked to sterilize history during his career as a textbook writer.   Certain characters of the American Revolution enjoyed near godlike status.  Giving counterevidence to their omniciencense or foresight was practically blasphemy.  But that counterevidence exists, found in letters and personal journals of George Washington, Paul Revere and others.  And these records paint much more conflicted, funny, perverse and sometimes bumbling portraits of the country’s forefathers.  

But Steve’s bosses found it an issue of money.  His editors were especially risk-averse for fear of offending a seemingly all-powerful Texas State Board of Education, who, according to Steve, had no patience for course material that questioned manifest destiny, Protestant Christianity, or the free market. 

And that, Steve says, is why textbooks are boring.

Author Steve Sheinkin.
Image courtesy Erica Heilman/Rumblestrip

Steve Sheinkin is now the author of many children’s history books that tell the stories left on the cutting room floor of his former employer.   Recent releases are about the history of the atomic bomb, the permanently undefeated Carlisle Indian School football team, and, of course, Benedict Arnold.

We adapted this episode of Here Be Monsters from a brilliant piece by Erica Heilman that she made for her own podcast, Rumble Strip.  Rumble Strip is great, listen to it.  It’s part of The Heard.  Jeff Emtman re-edited this piece with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music: Swamp Dog | | | The Black Spot

HBM059: When Cthulhu Calls

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HP Lovecraft. 1934

HP Lovecraft's drawing of his own monster, Cthulhu. 1934

...Cthulhu still lives, too, I suppose, again in that chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young...He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise...

 The most notable monster created by Howard Phillips Lovecraft was completely omnipotent, yet completely uncaring.  A massive, tentacled being that sleeps in the depths of the ocean--Cthulhu.  A creature that will one day rise again from its watery home to reclaim the Earth for itself.

In this episode of Here Be Monsters, we team up with Eric Molinsky of the Imaginary Worlds Podcast from Panoply Studios. 

Eric speaks with Sheldon Solomon, a psychologist who co-founded the study of Terror Management Theory.  Solomon explains the absurd lengths that humans go to avoid realizing their own mortality.  And thus, Eric embarks on a fictional journey to find out why a creature so loathsome is constantly being turned into Cthulhu plushy toys and Cthulhu onesies for babies

Eric visits a store call Love Craft in Redhook, New York, where he meets Roberta Suydam (played by Ann Scobie). Roberta tells him to look in the water off Rockaway point, Cthulhu is real.  Seeking confirmation, he visits the Lovecraft Archives, deep in a basement lab in Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island.  There, professor George Angell (played by Dan Truman) introduces him to the re-animated brain of "Howard" (played by Bill Lobely).  Howard Lovecraft turns out to be just as racist in death as he was in life.  Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Eric rents a boat to see what's out there in the waters off Rockaway Point, but as he draws closer to the dome rising from the water, he finds himself at wits' end.

Balancing the literary genius of Lovecraft's dark mythos with his unabashed xenophobia is no easy task.  Readers must either choose to ignore the troubling aspects of his personal character, or disgrace him for his beliefs.  Or possibly, they may superposition themselves in both camps at once, trying understand Lovecraft as if he's a just another creature in a universe of his own making.

Music: Serocell

Hey, by the way, we're having a Season 4 wrap party in Seattle in May.  Let us know if you can make it.

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point. Click through for map.

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point. Click through for map.

We produced this episode in collaboration with Imaginary Worlds from Panoply Studios.

We produced this episode in collaboration with Imaginary Worlds from Panoply Studios.

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point. Click through for map.

Domes in the water off the coast of Rockaway point. Click through for map.