The Dastardly Past: HM Holloway Prison.
In London in 1903, HM Holloway Prison became a single-sex prison for women. For the previous fifty years it housed both men and women, but the growing number of female felons demanded a larger facility for housing them. At one point, Holloway was the largest institution for the incarceration of women in Europe. In the twentieth century it housed many of Britain’s notable suffragettes, including Emmeline Pankhurst and, during the second world war, several English fascists, including Diana Mitford (wife of Sir Oswald Mosley). Holloway was rebuilt during the 1970s and 1980s and closed in 2016.
The Dastardly Past: Fort Knox
On June 28, 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the building of a fortified vault at Fort Knox in Kentucky, which would become the United States Bullion Depository. Construction on the granite building finished in December 1936, and by January 1937 the first shipments of gold began arriving. During the second World War it also housed the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Since it was built, Fort Knox has occupied the popular imagination as the place of riches beyond the dreams of King Midas, or even Auric Goldfinger. It’s also pretty cool for aficionados of Deco architecture.
The Dastardly Past: Kodak.
Like Laurel with Hardy, like peanut butter with jelly, like Waffle House with people of the land, so too do cameras and detection belong together. In 1888-89, Kodak introduced the first cameras that allowed people to simply point and shoot. With the press of a button, photography shifted from a specialist’s pursuit to something almost anyone could do. And they did—in droves—making Kodak the leader of popular photographic equipment, film, and film processing in the world.
A Mystery Writer’s Almanac—Bait for Criminals
On this day in 1812, Charles Lewis Tiffany is born. With a partner he begins a stationery and fancy goods store in 1837 in Lower Manhattan. By 1841 the store is manufacturing its own line of jewelry, and in 1853—having assumed control of the business—Tiffany shifts the business’s emphasis to jewelry. The rest, as they say, is history—all wrapped up in a distinctive robin’s-egg blue box.
Few buildings in Texas radiate atmosphere like the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells. The fourteen-story pleasure dome rises out of the rolling prairie like the misplaced skyscraper it is. For over forty years it was the destination of magnates, movie stars, and mere mortals, who wanted to drink or soak in the area’s healing waters. But since the 1970s when it closed, it has been left to molder away like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake. There has been talk of a complete renovation, which may already be underway—it’s been some months since we visited. I can only salute the courage (and line of credit) of any developer willing to take it on.
In the meantime, the old hotel’s picturesque decay attracts people seeking not health but something more other-worldly: ghosts, para-normal phenomena, etc. The thing is, in the admittedly limited research I’ve conducted, I find very little to suggest that anything awful, mysterious, or macabre ever happened there, at least nothing anyone published. I have found one instance of the resident house detective dying during his afternoon nap, and another about a fracas at the west entrance which resulted in one cabbie shooting and killing the owner of a rival taxi service. That’s about it–no St. Valentine’s Day Massacres, no murdered brides in bathtubs, no prom nights gone wrong á la Carrie.
I would love to hear from anyone who has ever gone on one of the Mineral Wells ghost walks, just to learn what the guides have to say. There is ample fodder for rumor and innuendo, of course: closed off underground space radiating out for blocks, for example, or broken windows with ragged curtains fluttering in the wind, or mildewed plywood blocking old doorways. But what else? Everyone loves a good thriller, and surely a luxury hotel operating at the apex of the last century’s longest economic boom has many anecdotes associated with it. To me the mystery surrounding this “haunted” hotel, however, is what are they?