What Does Fall Taste Like  

There is a certain kind of nostalgia that comes when the weather changes and the leaves drop like unevenly weighted balloons down to browning grass. There seems to be memories sparked by the smells of faraway snow and burning wood. The taste of apple cider sits along the back of my tongue and makes swallowing seem thicker than usual, like tears could be called up a little easier this time of year. When I write, I have a habit of putting my hand over my mouth to read back what I have written, and somehow my fingertips are always colder than the rest of me now that October has blended into November. It is a funny thing, nostalgia. I simultaneously feel that I am too young to have much of a life to look back on and think “those were the days,”  while often wishing I was a child again.

The Colonial Parkway is a road constructed by the National Park Service throughout the 26 years of pre-depression through post-World War Two America. Its 23-mile, stone roadway blends the harsh marsh into the sandy, crumbling edge of the York River, where on her best day she flows into the Chesapeake Bay and her worst she sits stagnate and mosquito filled. My thoughts turn to this road in Yorktown, Virginia when asked about November and nostalgia. Because along this stretch of two-way road is where the leaves change first in my town. Where the air turns lighter with the absence of humid river salt and the smoke from the wood fires at Jamestown float to mingle with the cloud cover at the mouth of the bay. When I was young, my family would bundle up into sweaters and swishy-fabric jackets and drive along the parkway to get to Colonial Williamsburg. I would always sit behind my mother on the passenger side, press my face up against the window and watch as the yellow-stone road blurred underneath the tires of my Father’s truck. The closer we got to Williamsburg, the more wilted the Yorktown Onion flowers got, the darker the horizon line of pine trees felt and the more orange the sky bled.

Williamsburg in the fall is where the ghosts of the colonies come to make the blacksmiths forgery ring out and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves a common sound. The rows of brick houses from 1600’s have modern style house paint adorning their front doors, and local garden club wreaths hanging prettily from brass knockers. We would walk our small group of four up and down the dusty streets and breathe in the new fall air and listen to the interpreters tell the tourists the stories of my hometown. We could always spot the tourists, wide-eyed and easily swayed by the claims of “George Washington spent the night here” and
“This is the original pot-pie recipe of the south,” always clutching onto children’s hands and bedecked with backpacks. However, as locals we knew that if you turned down a small light-brown dirt path after the Kings Head Inn but before the old Parliament house you would enter a sort of colonial speakeasy. This small structure housed the best hot cider you ever burnt your tongue on, and cookies that may have been the size of my head but tasted like the finest crafted morsel of dough and chocolate ever made.

Remembering Williamsburg and the parkway while a candle flickers on my window sill, feels very adult-ish of me, and it reminds me just how ready I am to go home. So when I take the turn (exit 235 off 64) to the Colonial Parkway in a few weeks, I’ll roll down my car window, motion to my little sister in the passenger seat and hope that my next breath tastes like wood ash and cinnamon.



Big Boys Don’t Cry

She offered that we watch a movie. I should have let her finish before I smoothly interjected, “Yeah that’s cool. I mean, whatever you want to do is fine with me.” She then began to thoroughly explain her affinity for horror films. “Okay, this is going to be a problem,” I thought to myself.

We hadn’t reached a point in our relationship when I could sit her down and explain to her that I  had made the conscious decision to abstain from all things “scary.” If I deemed something to be scary in nature, you could count me out. There are an assortment of things that fall under my imaginary umbrella of scary which ranges from turning on every light in the house in order to take a late night potty-break or refusing to take the trash out past sundown. Call me crazy all you want, but there is no way you can prove that someone isn’t lurking in the woods by the trashcan just waiting to make me a murder mystery. Watching a horror film ranks somewhere between visiting a location where someone  inexplicably perished and adhaljdjaslsgjsglksglkj ljsljsagjlsdg (I still don’t really know to say here. Any suggestions).

She had her heart set on watching a movie called “Deliver Us From Evil.” I recall the synopsis saying something about “a thrilling rendition of a true story about a cop and unconventional priest who team up together to perform an exorcism in an effort to solve a string of crimes.” Okay, there is a major distinction that I make between scary and thrilling. They both engage similar aspects of adrenaline and both involve a subtle fear of death, but the discrepancy manifests itself in how death finally takes me. There is an undeniable difference between being thrown off a roller coaster and quickly falling to your death and being axe murdered by a satanic children’s doll because you forgot to switch on the hallway light on your way to tinkle.

Also, what was this based on a true story hogwash? Are we talking loosely based, mostly based, or this definitely happened? The margin of error in discerning this fact was too wide, and as far as I was concerned, the error involved a gruesome death. Yet, I conceded. I agreed that we should watch “Deliver Us From Evil” because, and I quote, “The plot seemed like it had an interesting story line.” Oh the moronic lies I tell myself when I’m scared.

The next two hours involved calculated measures of extreme excuses and avoidance. Some of the evening’s highlights include me pretending to be asleep so I wouldn’t have view the particularly scary parts, faking an unexpected important phone call from work, and conveniently having a very active bladder. Needless to say, the evening did not go how I expected. However, I must add that if we would have watched Disney’s “Enchanted,” which was my movie choice, the evening would have ended with tears of joy from a thrilling love story of a fairy tale princess who found true love in the real world.


Where Cinematic Horrors Come True

There are few local haunts that send chills down your spine like Western State Hospital—also known as the abandoned insane asylum off Interstate 81. It turns out that the horrific depictions of insane asylums in movies and shows are actually not too far off from the truth.

Looming atop a peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Western State Hospital is located in Staunton, Virginia. After passing this abandoned building countless times, I decided to dig into its history, and what I discovered is truly ghastly. Originally called Western State Lunatic Asylum, the government-sanctioned facility received its first patient in 1828. Dr. Stribling, the first hospital director, believed in moral and medical therapy, which entailed healing through human relationships. He taught his staff to encourage mental patients to find vocations, hobbies, exercises, and to engage in fun activities.

However, Dr. Stribling represented the silver lining of Western State Hospital’s gruesome past. In 1905, renowned physician Dr. DeJarnette became the new hospital director. As a fierce advocate of eugenics, he wrote a poem, which included the stanza:

This is the law of Mendel,
And often he maken it plain,
Defectives will breed defectives,
And the insane breed insane.
Oh why do we allow these people
To breed back to the monkey’s nest,
To increase our country’s burdens
When we should only breed the best?

DeJarnette facilitated the sterilization of hundreds of his patients who he deemed “unfit” to reproduce. One could get sterilized for being poor, unintelligent, mentally unstable, or promiscuous. Basically, if you weren’t of a certain skin color, social class, or mental state, you were at risk of undergoing a forced sterilization.

Not only did DeJarnette enforce sterilization, he also administered electroshock therapy, lobotomies, isolation, and physical restraints. Imagine being strapped down and shocked until you have a seizure or picture doctors plucking at nerves behind your eyes while you’re still conscious. This was the every day life for patients at Western State Hospital. Thus, the asylum morphed from a haven of healing to a decrepit ward where despicable practices were implemented. Sterilization and these unethical “therapies” continued to grow in popularity after World War II and even after Americans witnessed the devastating genocide as a result of the eugenics movement propagated by the Nazis.

In the 1970s, Western State Hospital was converted to a penitentiary and residence for children with extreme behavioral disorders. By 2002, the city of Staunton finally boarded up the building with the hopes of renovating it into condominiums, offices, and a shopping mall. However, the abandoned insane asylum still looms among the Blue Ridge Mountains casting a shadow that whispers of unspeakable horrors.

Walk along the grounds or crawl through a hole into the building, and you will still discover black handprints scattered across the walls, boxes of teeth, hospital beds, and solitary confinement rooms. And who knows, you might just find some old crusted wires used in electroshock therapy or the medical tools used to scrape behind patients’ eyes.

So beware JMU students, Dr. DeJarnette may still lurk the hallways waiting for his next patient—his next victim—his next…you.




The Ghost of Apartment 14 

Our study abroad, two-week stay in Galway, Ireland in the summer of 2016 began like every other new day in a new place did. However, it quickly got rather, interesting…

Once safely ensconced in our new apartment, Sarah and I were roused from our dozes in our new bedrooms by Ryan, our third roommate, asking us with a bit of a quaver in his voice, “Have either of you have used the bathroom yet?”

When we answered no, Ryan, laughing with a panicky edge, asked Sarah and I to come look at the bathroom door handle. Before we got but a few steps down the creaky, sloped hardwood floors our bedroom doors slammed shut with what we assumed was just wind from our open windows. Reaching the bathroom and a wide-eyed Ryan, he just pointed our gaze to the handle, and there, in stark red was what looked like a bloody handprint.

Now being an almost religious watcher of all things crime shows I knew that the likelihood that for this mean anything besides the last person to use the bathroom had red paint or wet nail polish or something on their hand was an astronomically small chance, so we wiped the handle clean and left to enjoy the day. After a day of new sights and no small amount of getting lost, all five of us packed into the living to watch a movie or two and enjoy some Irish refreshments.

Bang! A door slammed shut somewhere down the hall, all of us jumped and looked at each other, for a few minutes we played around with the idea of air pressure and wind gusts and we quickly dismissed it. But the next day windows closed in the morning that were open when we went to sleep, and the skylight windows were open and then slammed shut. Throughout the two weeks we stayed in apartment 14, we heard doors creaking, closing, opening, voices when no one else is talking in the apartment, and people moving around in the apartment when no one else was home or even worse when Ryan, Sarah, Stuart, Rachel and I were all in the same room together.

The culminating ghostly behavior occurred on our second to last day in apartment 14. Ryan, whose room was the only one with a balcony, asked myself and our other roommate if we’d been out on his balcony last night. When we said no, just like for the door handle, Ryan informed us of the creepiest conclusion that this conversation could have had at that point. He woke up that morning and immediately saw a hand print pressed into the outside of our third story apartment sliding glass doors. His balcony had no access from the street and Ryan wasn’t outside that night at all.

Joking about all these occurrences and our friendly or at least apathetic ghost of apartment 14 with the other seven of our study abroad group, Nora a girl on our trip, told us that she looked up the construction of the apartments because she was confused how some of the student’s apartments opened onto the courtyard and some onto the street. She told us the following story:

“The man who made this entire apartment complex, made them with really cheap materials to make more money off the construction. In his hurry to get away with the low-cost construction he cut corners on obeying Ireland’s building codes, for example not having apartments be directly walk-up off the street. The backers for the project eventually found out about the contractor’s poor construction and code violations and were going to tear the place down and press charges against the contractor. Hearing all this through good old Irish gossip the contractor went to the apartments, walked up to apartment 15 and killed himself. And because of this the backers let the project stand and use the apartments for a long-stay hotel.”

At the point, understandably our group freaked out. Maybe this contractor is our apartment 14 ghost?

All I know is that Ireland to me felt like the thinnest place I have ever been in relation to how close you feel to some kind of otherworldliness when just walking down the streets of Galway or out in the middle of a ruin. While in Galway, I also experienced personally strange things. For example, a tattoo that I got on a Tuesday was completely healed by Wednesday night, my body’s responses to daily medication were going haywire, and all of this only occurred while inside the apartment. So whether you believe in ghosts or not, sometimes things happen that are a little too coincidental to overlook.

Happy ghost hunting and haunting this October, just watch out for the door handles near you.

Harrisonburg Haunting: The Ghosts of Madison

At 108 years old, JMU is bound to have a few ghost stories and spooky traditions floating around, and this month, your TAD writing team has set out to find them!

Everyone at JMU has heard of the tunnels—forbidden, dangerous, and difficult to access. They’re the holy grail of trespassing for many a student thrill-seeker. But do you know their history? You might have heard that before they were closed off in the 1960’s, they were sometimes used by the students and staff at the State Normal School to move safely and unruffled between classes during inclement weather. You may not have heard that they’re haunted.

over103The State Teachers College at Harrisonburg, ca. 1929. Courtesy of JMU Special Collections.

There are many stories about the tunnels, but one in particular has endured the test of time.

First, a little history about the tunnels themselves. Originally, the tunnels funneled steam from the old heating plant to Jackson Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 1), Maury Hall (formerly Science Hall), Ashby Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 2), and Harrison Hall (formerly the Students’ Building). The tunnels were large and dimly lit, but provided easy access to various campus buildings. As more buildings were built and the student population grew, the tunnels became less important and more dangerous, and were eventually closed off sometime around 1969. A lively mythology about the tunnels and their ghostly denizens grew quickly once they were forbidden, and it is still very much alive today.

studentbody1929Student body of the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg on the Quad, 1929. JMU Special Collections.

As legend has it, our ghost was a student at the State Normal School (or, depending on the exact year, the State Teachers College) in the 1920’s. It was a time of rapidly increasing freedom for women, both socially and professionally, with a booming film industry pushing an image of romance and sexuality onto the young people. One can imagine that many of the liberated young ladies attending the College were taken in by the glitz and joie de vivre of the flapper lifestyle. So it’s understandable that when this girl began receiving little gifts and romantic letters from a secret admirer, she was swept off her feet. The notes kept coming, each longer than the last, the words more sweet, the gifts more lavish. And then, one day, the letter was an invitation—to meet her admirer in the tunnels after curfew. The campus had been on high alert for a Peeping Tom for some time, and her friends begged her not to go. A stranger, in the middle of the night? What sort of man refuses to show himself in the light of day? But, wrapped up in her romantic fantasy, she ignored them, slipped on her fanciest heels and spritzed on her nicest perfume before sneaking out to meet her unknown beau. When she arrived at their amorous rendezvous, her fantasy rapidly devolved into a nightmare—her secret admirer was a crazed killer who had been stalking the campus for weeks. He attacked and eventually killed her, leaving her body in the tunnels.

It’s said that if you listen closely, you can hear her heels clicking on the floor of the tunnels late at night. And if you catch a whiff of perfume on your midnight stroll? You’re standing on the spot she was murdered.


JMU’s Centennial Celebration Info Page

Encimine Blog post about the tunnels

Jollett Etc. Blog Post about the tunnels

Ashby Hall Blog Post about creepy stories

Breeze Article on JMU’s supernatural side

JMU Special Collections photos

Candid Confessions of a Minimalist 

You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at my closet, but I’m a minimalist. Okay, maybe I’m an aspiring minimalist. If you can see past the mountains of Steve Maddens and patterned ties, then you’ll realize I’m trying to live a simplistic lifestyle. You see, the trick is to exude luxury but practice frugality. Essentially, I’m a human peacock. This is the precise reason I had a hard time picking an item on ThisIsWhyImBroke.com.

One could make a case for buying any item on that website but when everything is special, nothing seems special. Everything starts to blend in together as unusual novelty items or gag gifts. Although, amid all of the quirky items on the website, you are bound to find something that screams, “How did I go my whole life existing without this thing?”

I believe the only way I will ever fully embrace a minimalist lifestyle is by forcing myself to live in such a manner. I think the perfect way to do this is to build a tiny house. So, when I came across the building plans for a tiny house on the website, I had to take the plunge.


For $350 I thought I was getting a tiny house, but apparently that’s only enough to cover the plans for making the house. In an ironic twist, becoming a minimalist looked like it was going to be very expensive. Fortunately, the plan I chose included the descriptive steps on how to construct a tiny house that was pet friendly, solar powered, and harvested rainwater. Talk about being off the grid! A house that small and efficient is the perfect first step to using less resources in my life. On second thought, a tiny house seems like a good fourth or fifth step. Although, when I do decide to take that giant leap, ThisWhyImBroke.com will be reason I can invite company to my tiny house and say, “This is why I’m rich!”

Fighting Back…One Bug at a Time

Amidst mushroom desk lamps, cheeseburger backpacks, edible alcoholic bubbles, and Pokémon bath bombs, I drifted into another dimension of reality on ThisIsWhyI’mBroke.com. A reality where I could keep secret stashes of money in my flip-flops and amuse myself with floating fireballs. A world where geeky gadgets are a normality and where the Dark Knight’s Batpod is a perfectly acceptable purchase (and only for a mere $106,350.08).

After gazing and scrolling for much too long on a couch in Carrier, I finally picked my desired item—a rechargeable bug vacuum. As I read the description for this nifty tool, my mind filled with fantasies of twirling around my bug-ridden house sucking them up and laughing hysterically.


No more squishing bug guts on your foot or using precious toilet paper to smash them. And let’s be honest, in those moments we all chuck the dead bug—toilet paper and all—into the toilet, flush, and run frantically out of the room. Gone are the sleepless nights where you lay awake waiting for a giant spider to crawl across your face. Who made insects the master of us? It’s time to take back control of our living spaces and rid our residences of these horrendous creatures.

Not only can the rechargeable bug vacuum protect your home, it’s small enough to fit in a backpack. That means you can transport it into your classrooms and whip it out any time to defend yourself. You will automatically be the coolest kid at school. Also, wearing it in a holster around your waist will hands-down guarantee more friends.

For only $22.99 this must-have weapon of self-defense can be yours. It includes a built-in LED to enhance visibility in the dark, and it’s USB charged. If your broke college bank account can’t handle it, use a credit card—disclaimer: that’s what they’re for. Debt ain’t got nothing on you. So click the link, take a leap, and join the masses of people combating bugs efficiently and without the squishy mess. Let’s take back the fight against bugs and suck them up—one bug at a time.

The Heart and Soul of James Madison University