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Monday, August 22, 2011

Check out some Fresno roller derby this weekend.

Now normally I talk about ghosts, UFOs, strange creatures and the like here on Weird Fresno but sometimes I like to delve into the historical side of Fresno and not just the normal stuff everyone knows about. Did you know that Fresno has a history of roller derby bouts (not matches) that dates back way before the current groups that are in Fresno today?

The sport of roller derby has been around for 76 years now and in fact the sport just celebrated it's anniversary on August 13. I was talking with NOTown's very own KarmaKaze the other day and she was telling me that she heard that back in the 1950's the Los Angeles Thunderbirds would meet the Bay City Bombers in the middle at the Fresno Fairgrounds and have a bout. Still trying to dig up some more information on this, but I love the fact that two teams meet in the middle to do battle. Must have been epic.

Fast forward to the 2000's and now Fresno has several roller derby teams of its own and probably the best known one is the NOtown Roller Derby team and as luck would have it they are having a bout this Saturday, August 27 against the Mendo Mayhem at the Fresno Fairgrounds. I've been to several bouts before and theses girls seriously kick some major ass. I remember the first bout I went to, one of the jammers (the one who scores the points), Hari Kari, fell and received a concussion. They had to take her to the hospital, but she was back at the after game party. Now that's hard core. These girls take play on concrete and take some spills that would make most men cry and want their mother. But they just get back up like it's nothing. You have to respect that.

Tickets for the bout are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. You can purchase tickets at SBI Boardshop, Twee Boutique, Swiggs, and online at Parking is free at the fairgrounds and doors open at 5:30 and the bout starts at 7:00. I'd recommend getting their early to get a good seat. If you are lucky you can sit on the floor on the edge of the track and get a great view of the girls as they skate by. I definitely recommend going if you haven't been before, it's a blast and it's something cool that this town can get behind. And when tickets are cheaper than going to the movies, you really have no reason not to go.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A brief history of vampire movies

Bela Lugosi in his iconic role as Dracula.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The guys over at the Dumbdrum recently asked me to attend a sneak preview of the remake of the classic vampire flick, Fright Night, and write a review for them. I thoroughly enjoyed it (you can read my review here) and it was nice to see an actual vampire flick for once given the recent crop of films that have been released lately (I'm looking at you Twilight). So that had me wondering, what happened to the vampire movie? How did it turn from something that terrified people to something that sparkled in the sun?

The first "official" vampire movie was the classic German film Nosferatu which was released in 1922. What some people may not be aware of is that this was an unlicensed version of Bram Stoker's Dracula (instead of Count Dracula, it was Count Orlok for example) and was so similar to the novel that Stoker's estate sued the filmmakers and won with all copies to be destroyed. Luckily in 1994 a team of European scholars were able to restore the film from five prints that had managed to escape destruction. Another interesting note is that instead of a stake through the heart it was sunlight that destroyed the vampire, a plot device which would later be influential on vampire films and was accepted as part of vampire lore.

The next vampire movie that set a milestone was Universal's Dracula in 1931. The iconic film stared Bela Lugosi and his portrayal is considered to be the definitive Dracula by both film lovers and critics alike. Lugosi had a powerful screen presence, even when he had no dialog audiences were still terrified of him. Unfortunately the role of Dracula led to typecasting for Lugosi. Even though he had success with an earlier stage carrier, the role of Count Dracula would haunt him for the rest of his life.

The character Dracula was used in several other movies in the 1930's and 40's. There was a direct sequel to Dracula, Dracula's Daughter (1936), with another sequel in 1943 called Son of Dracula. And even though the Count had met his apparent death in the 1931 film, he returned for three more Universal films: House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula as well as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)which was Bela Lugosi's second and last turn at playing Count Dracula.

Dracula was introduced to a new generation in 1958 when Christopher Lee played the Count for Hammer Films in Dracula. It was in this film with the spectacular death of Dracula vie being exposed to direct sunlight that reinforced this part of vampire lore that was first introduced in Nosferatu. Christopher played the role in all but two of the seven sequels in the Hammer Film series.

Vampire films weren't just about Dracula, or were horror movies in general. A sub-genre of vampire films, distinct in their own right, formed their own niche. Beginning with the afore mentioned Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the vampire became a subject of comedy. Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) was a notable parody of the vampire genre. Others like Vampira (1974). Love at First Bite (1979) and Mel Brook's Dracula: Dead and Loving it (1995) were other examples of vampire movies that had received the comedic touch. But it didn't stop there. Several vampire films shot in the 60's and 70's explored the topic of lesbianism. Blood and Roses (1960) was the first followed by the more explicit Hammer Karnstein's Trilogy which started with The Vampire Lovers in 1970. Lesbianism wasn't the only sexual topic as there were also several blaxploitation films made, most notably Blacula (1972) and Scream Blacula Scream (1973).

Cue the 1980's and vampire films returned to their original horror roots. Movies like Salem's Lot (1979), The Lost Boys (1987) as well as the original Fright Night (1985) were extremely popular and are considered cult classics of the vampire genre. The trend continued with Francis Ford Copolla's modern take on Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), from Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) continued the horror trend.

It was at this time that the vampire movie really started to incorporate romantic elements into it's story line. Copolla's remake had Mina Harker the reincarnation of Dracula's wife. Then there was Interview with the Vampire. Say what you want about it, but both Louis and Lestat were lovers. The film toned down their affair, but in the book it was obvious. Underworld (2003) also had romantic undertones as well. But the original novel by Bram Stoker had these same tones but they were more of commentary on the restrictions of the Victorian era when the novel was written.

Fast forward to the 2000's and there's a sudden shift in the tone of vampire movies. Gone are the elements of horror and terror that had been a staple of the genre for decades. The seductive characteristics were still there, but with the introduction of the Twilight it seems that vampires were no longer creatures or the night that were ruthless killers but troubled souls that sparkled in the sunlight (really?). I know there have been the more traditional vampire movies released this decade (Blade trilogy for example) but for some reason Twilight overshadows them all. Why is that? Is it due to numerous fans out there that scream at the mere mention of Robert Pattinson's name? Or is this the path the vampire genre is heading to? It seems there are clones of Twilight everywhere you look (books, TV series, etc.) and it's possible that there will be another movie out there that tries to mimic it in an attempt to ride it's coattails.

But I honestly doubt that. I don't thing there will be a bunch of Twilight clones out there. It's a fad. And as soon as the last one is released, people will forget about it. There actually have been some fantastic vampire movies recently. 2010's Let Me In was one of the best I had seen in years and I had recommended it to many friends who had been disenchanted with the whole vampire genre. And yes it's a remake, which I usually disdain; I really enjoyed Fright Night (mostly cause of David Tennant). Hopefully more films of this quality will continue to be released and continue the tradition of horror that was started nearly 100 years ago with Nosferatu.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Recent Central California UFO sightings

Every so often I like to check out the National UFO Reporting Center and check to see if there have been any recent UFO sightings in the valley. As luck would have it there were several over the past two months and I thought I would share them. Please note that these were posted as they were on NUFORC and I haven't edited either spelling or grammer. Link to the original report can be found at the end of each one.

Occurred : 7/30/2011 22:00
Reported: 7/31/2011 12:22:48 PM

Location: Squaw Valley, CA
Shape: Light
Duration:10 seconds

Slow moving ball of light.

I've lived here for about 6 years now and I'm a sky gazer. For the past 4 weeks or so, I have been seeing strange lights in the northern sky. I've only seen one at a time. They look like bright stars, but they are moving slowly in the sky. I only see them for a few seconds before they completely just disappear.

Last nights sighting was a little different. This time it was closer and it flared and then disappeared. In the 6 years I've lived here, I have never seen these before. They are not airplanes. I see airplanes all the time in the night sky and I know the flight patterns. These are just balls of light that appear and disappear. They don't blink, or pulse, other than the one that flared brighter before it disappeared.

Occurred : 7/18/2011 21:30
Reported: 7/18/2011 11:06:24 PM
Location: Turlock, CA
Shape: Light
Duration:3 min.

Four lights moving in the Ca Valley Sky

Just before 9:30pm my wife and I took our puppy out to the back yard for his night time bathroom break. We live in the country so sky watching is just something we like to do.

While waiting I noticed a silvery light moving fast across the east horizon line. The speed of it caught my attention. I pointed it out to my wife and then we notice 3 more as we began to look around. They were almost directly above us. The 3 were moving towards each other when we noticed them. One was moving some what straight from a Southernly direction to a Northern direction. One that looked like it was coming from the northern direction was moving erratically (like jumping from spot to spot. It was also more bright than the others) but mostly head Southernly towards the one coming from the South.

The third just kind of appeared out out no where and seemed to be coming from the West. All 3 looked like they were going to collide.

My wife got excited because she thought they were g! oing to crash! But it looked more like they passed right through each other.

After crossing paths or whatever they did, the one headed more Northernly seem to pick up speed very fast and quickly disappeared into the North direction. The brighter one from the North was still headed southernly but slowed and stopped for about 1 min.

The one that came in from the West instantly turned 90 degrees Northernly (but was more N/W in direction) at the point of meeting for the three. It kept the same speed the entire time. It wasn't fast, but it wasn't slow! We watched it till it faded off into the sky.

The brighter one that stopped, just disappeared where it was. It looked bigger too compared to the other ones and most of the stars that are in the sky.

The other two seemed to be about the same size and brightness. I would size them comparable with the majority of the small stars in the sky. Big enough to see, but too small to see any detail. Not like you would see if it were an airpl! ane, you can see its flashing lights.

Can only say they looked like w hite lights just like most stars look like, other than they were moving.

Occurred : 7/18/2011 11:45 (Entered as : 7/18/2011 11:45)
Reported: 7/19/2011 2:07:16 PM 14:07
Posted: 8/7/2011
Location: Los Banos (approx 10 miles east of), CA
Shape: Triangle
Duration:3-5 minutes
3 Bright lights along highway 152 east of Los Banos, very close to the ground

I was driving along highway 152 traveling west, when approximately 10-15 miles outside of the town of Los Banos, I saw a green bright light fly across the highway a mile in front of me. As it passed and it turned and looked as if two white lights had been shot off out of it almost.

It proceeded to to turn make a tight turn to pass over the highway once again. It passed over the highway and then proceeded to drop very low to the ground, still continuing forward. Low enough that I could remember seeing the ground lit up from its light. The reflection of the light allowed me to see what I believe was that the lights where actually connected to one another (i.e., that the craft was a bigger object with these three lights at the points).

After flying low to the ground for a short distance it gently curved back up and achieved more alluded ((sic. Altitude?)) and turned left.

I was driving along 152 heading west, and all this occurred in the span of about 3-5 minutes. I could still see the craft in my side view/rear view mirrors, as I continued down 152. The object looked to be staying in the same area.

I was in the car by myself at the time, but there were other drivers both east and west bound along 152.

Occurred : 7/13/2011 13:00
Reported: 7/16/2011 11:35:33 PM
Location: Coarsegold, CA
Shape: Disk
Duration:2 minutes

UFO Sighting on the way up to the mountains on a road trip with family

This photo is not a fake or altered....I took this photo on a road trip to the mountains...with ((husband's name deleted)) & the kids....we were with 3 kids in the back I was taking photos...I saw one silver grey disk hoovering in the I took a photo of it with my cell phone.

At that moment...I turned around to check on the kids, who were fussing...and when I turned around to take another photo of the disk...IT WAS GONE!...just that fast.

I don't know how to do any altering of photos.

Occurred : 7/5/2011 00:38
Reported: 7/15/2011 1:55:16 PM
Location: Fresno, CA
Shape: Triangle
Duration:20 minutes

Strange lights/UFO's over Fresno,Ca near the airport.

On July 5th, 2011, at 12.:38 am my son and I were in our backyard talking. we live about 4 miles from the Fresno airport and were watching airplanes and police helicopters in the shy that night. People have been lighting off illegal firworks and we were watching the show.

As we were looking up, I saw a large triangle craft moving slowly to the south-west towords the airport. I was standing facing the same direction, when my son spoted another set of lights that looked like bright orbs. There was 3 of them and moving south-east of our home.

The large triangeled changed colors form white to red to blue then back to white, then started to fly way faster than anything else that was in the shy that night and was out of sight in about 4 seconds. The orbs also changed color. Red,white and then back to red.

We could see other airplanes flying into the Fresno airport and taking off, but nothing could fly without making a sound.

We waited to see if the Air National Guard would send jets to the area of these objects, but nothing. We have seen other unexplained lights over the greater Fresno/Clovis area for the last couple of months, but nothing like this. The orbs stayed on the same course, but came together as one light and disapeared straight up.

There were at least 3 helicopters and multiple airplanes that night, but nothing moved or looked like those lights we saw that night.

Occurred : 7/3/2011 21:00
Reported: 7/2/2011 10:20:37 PM
Location: Fresno, CA
Shape: Light
Duration:3-4 min

My boyfriend and I see these same ones a lot. He came in, telling me to come and look.

It was a bright light to the east, a little southeast.

We watch it for longer than they usually stick around. It moved slightly up and down as it was moving across the sky at the speed slower than an airplane. Then it dimmed.

It was about dusk. A lot of fireworks going off so I'm hoping someone else may report it, as well. My first report although I've seen many. I think we have something that makes us more aware. Not sure how no one else sees these.

My little boy Has witness them with us as well although I'm not sure he understands why he saw.

Occurred : 6/29/2011 22:55
Reported: 6/29/2011 11:25:19 PM
Location: Visalia, CA
Shape: Light
Duration:5 min

Bright light that disapeared

Light came from northwest going southeast. It looked like a plane at first. The light was getting brighter with no flashing lights.

It passed over head at about 1000 feet or the height of a low flighing plane with absolutly no sound at all. It just disappered after it passed over us.

This was at 10:05 pm. It was definatly not a plane.

Occurred : 6/29/2011 04:00
Reported: 6/29/2011 4:52:12 AM
Location: Porterville, CA
Shape: Disk
Duration:45 minutes

disk shaped object getting brighter and dissapearing also moved a little.

There was one disk shaped object we observed for about 45 minutes that would disappear and get brighter. It seemed to move a little it also looked like the lights consisted of many white lights and a couple red lights.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The ghosts and legends of Hornitos, CA

The old Gagliardo & Co. Store in Hornitos, CA now acts as a gift shop.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers
About 13 miles west of Mariposa, CA on CR-J16 lies the small community of Hornitos. The community was founded by Mexican miners in 1848 and was soon populated by settlers evicted from the nearby mining town Quartzburg. Most of the evictees were of the "less desirable" type and almost overnight they changed the character of Hornitos and it quickly became known as a rough community. Soon the streets were lined with fandango halls, bars, gambling dens, and house of ill repute and it was rumored that many of the businesses were interconnected with underground tunnels. By the mid-late 1850's Hornitos had grown to small city with a population of some 6000 people. A thriving Chinese section formed to the east of town and housed some 2000 folk. Business was thriving as $40,000 in gold was shipped out on a daily basis.

Old adobe ruins with only the entry way and it's iron doors remaining.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

But the town has a dark history to it as well. The town was so notorious for its daily gunfights that the dead outlaws were simply dumped into a deep gully called Dead Man's Gulch. Famed Mexican bandit, Joaquin Murieta, was said to frequent the fandango halls and was rumored to have been almost captured in the town in the 1850's.

Pacific Saloon (built 1851), one of the many bars that was in
Hornitos during its heyday.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Masonic Lodge built sometime in the 1850's.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Eventually the gold ran out and the miners who populated the town moved onto other places in search of riches. From a population of around 15,000 in 1879 it quickly dwindled down and around 1932 there were roughly 60 people living in Hornitos. Today the population is 75 people and Hornitos is considered one of the best preserved ghost towns in the Mother Lode country with ruins of an old Wells Fargo office, a Masonic Hall, an old jailhouse and even the store where D. Ghiradelli (famous maker of chocolate) got his start before moving to San Francisco.

The ruins of D. Ghiradelli's general store (circa 1856)
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Not all of the original settlers of Hornitos have left and it's said that many still haunt the town, still searching for riches perhaps or not wanting to move on for some other reason.

Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Near the town square the ghosts of two prostitutes, who used knives and fought to the death over a miner, can still be felt to this day. The fight was over whose client he was and before the fight was over the miner had snuck off.  When the proverbial dust had settled, one of the women lay dead on the street and the was other badly injured. It's said if you stand still in the town square and listen you can still hear the screams of the women as they fought and the cheers of the miners who stood around and watched.

The Hornitos jail house, rumored to be haunted by a former
inmate who died there.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

The old jail house is also supposed to be haunted by a miner who was rumored to have died there. The brick jail is still standing today and is about 12 feet by 12 feet and has two 1 foot square windows. Accused of stealing a horse, he was placed in the town jail to await trial. Several drunk cowboys who just left one of the local saloons saw the miner in the jail and decided for some reason they were going to rescue him. They somehow convinced the miner if he tied a rope around his waist that they would pull him through the window and to freedom. The miner did so and the cowboys pulled and pulled but couldn't get him through the small opening. They pulled so hard that they eventually broke his back. The miner later succumbed to his injuries and died. His spirit has never been able to rest and can be felt walking around the jail today.

The local cemetery where a young girl's ghost is said to wander.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Another spirit, this one of a young Mexican girl, haunts the local cemetery. She died at a young age of an unnamed epidemic and for some reason wasn't given a proper burial but instead was buried on top of the ground and then bricks and stones were placed over her body. Through the years tourists have taken theses stones and bricks from her grave. From time to time she is seen searching the cemetery, looking for the stones and bricks that covered her grave.

St. Catherine's Catholic Church, built sometime in the 1860's.
Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

These aren't the only ghosts that roam the streets of Hornitos, but they do have their own stories. Other ghosts have been seen but their story hasn't been told yet.

Near Givins Gulch a woman has been seen roaming the area just before sunrise with a spear sticking out of her head.

Another female ghost has been seen with a plastic bag tied around her head in Hornitos Park just before dawn.

Late at night a figure can sometimes be seen on the top of Bullion Hill gazing out over the landscape.

The ghost of a young confederate officer can frequently be seen next to the Cotton Arm creek and it appears as if he is struggling with something.

Also the spirit of a male figure can be seen dragging something from Corbet Creek sometime after midnight.

Photo courtesy of Lewis Shorb, Ghost Town Explorers

Whether these ghost stories are true or not, one thing is for certain. Hornitos is rich in history. Both from the gold rush era and also rich in ghost stories. Hornitos makes a great day trip for those who have never been to a ghost town before and its a chance to check out some of our local area history that many don't know about.

I want to thank Lewis Shorb over at Ghost Town Explorers for allowing me to share the photos he took of Hornitos for this article. You can check out his article on Hornitos here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Revisiting California's first mass UFO sighting

Artist depiction of the mystery airship as it was seen over Sacramento.

Every now and then I like to revist an old story that I had written about when I first started Weird Fresno and it's usually to share it with new readers who may have not read the story, or as is the case with this one new information has been found.

Seven years before the Wright Brothers would become famous with the first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, something strange was seen in the California skies. On the night of November 22, 1896 a large airship was seen over much of northern and central California including San Francisco, San Jose and Fresno.

Hundreds of eye witnesses reported seeing a massive airship slowly floating in the sky, roughly 1,000 feet over the city. What drew most of their attention was the ship's light as they weren't accustomed to seeing bright lights in the sky. Several witnesses even claimed to have even seen figures through the craft's windows, but their descriptions are vauge at best only describing them as humanoid shaped.

Things do get weirder though. The next night a Colonel H.G. Shaw was driving his buggy in Stockton when he happened to come across a large airship that had landed in a field. He described it as being cylindrical shaped and about 150 long and 25 feet in diameter and completely made of metal. As he approached the ship three very tall, slender men exited the ship. He then claims they examined his buggy and conversed with him briefly before boarding their ship again and taking to to the skies. Also a man in Indio claimed to have gone onboard the craft for a flight, but no further details were given.

Following the sightings a San Francisco lawyer named George D. Collins announced that he had been hired to represent the airship's inventor, but after a few days Collins retracted his statement claiming that he had been misunderstood. Shortly after this, the former Attorney General of California, William H. H. Hart, claimed he was in communication with the airship's mysterios inventor and said that the airship would shortly be used to bomb the Spanish garrison of Havana and liberate Cuba. But when pressed for more details and evidence to back up his claim, Hart backed off.

For the next few weeks numerous airships were spooted all along the west coast of the United States and Canada. There were even reports as far east as Nebraska. By December the sightings had stopped and the news stopped reporting on the sightings and people forgot about the airship. But what was it that people actually saw?

Airships did exist at the time. The dirigible "La France" had flown a controlled course in 1885 outside Paris, and in Germnay Count Zeppelin was buiding his first airship. Efforts to build an airship in America date as far back as 1865. But none of these could fly the distances that the mystery airship was making. But there might be a possible explanation. According to the book "Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery", the government had in fact nine airships and were testing them. The best piece of evidence to back this up was an account from R. L. Lowery, a former street railway employee from Sacramento. One of the nights the airship was seen in Sacramento he heard a voice from above call, "Throw her up higher; she'll hit the steeple." Looking up he saw that there were two men seated on a bicyle-like frame and were peddling. Above them was a cigar-shaped body of some length, as he described. Lowery also described that the craft had wheels on the side akin to ones on the side of a steam boat.

So it seems that the U.S. government was testing an experimental aircraft over California skies. Only difference is that it was 1896 and not the present day. But it seems some things never change. One has to wonder what the goverment is testing over California skies today.