Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The underwater wax museum

Sunny slopes, shady stories

Below this place they call Heavenly, hell awaits those who double-cross the Mob.

Around here, urban legend has lake fishermen reeling in human ears and human hands. They say that far below all that fluffy powder snow and those perfectly spaced pine trees and all that sunshine; and way down below the surface of the huge alpine lake the Indians call Lake of the Sky, lies an underwater wax museum of perfectly preserved Mafia gangsters with bullet holes in the middle of their foreheads.

Locals say it's just part of the charm of South Lake Tahoe and Heavenly Ski Resort. […]

There are apres-ski huts perfect for catching the sunshine and the red and white fir trees give this place its reputation as having the best tree runs in North America. The runs are long and challenging, the snow is deep and dry and the mountain huts are solid log timber.

Then the sun sets and the night turns Heavenly into another kind of place altogether.

There's a gruesome side to Heavenly; it's as I walk by Lake Tahoe in the growing dark that I think of those bodies.

Steve, a ski instructor at Heavenly who shares some local legends with me over a beer, tells me famous marine explorer Jacques Cousteau once tried to bring a submarine into Lake Tahoe but local casino bosses of the day refused to allow it. Then there's the story Cousteau did go down with a film crew but Mob bosses confiscated his footage; and then there's the story that Cousteau decided himself that the world wasn't ready to see what lay beneath the waters of Lake Tahoe.

Geological surveys have so far failed to find any bodies, neither have modern fishermen with advanced fish-finding technology, but still the locals hold on to their legends. "They don't find bodies around here," Steve tells me. "They sink to the bottom; you go in there, you don't come out."

It's the near-freezing water, many say, that prevents the creation of gases that would otherwise bloat and float a corpse to the surface. Locals maintain there are hundreds of bodies down there, perfectly preserved. Fishermen even call an area of it The Grave. That's where, the story goes, a fisherman jagged something huge just offshore but whatever it was broke free. When he reeled in the line, a human ear was still on the hook. Then there's the story of renowned gangster Three-Fingered Tony who met an untimely demise nearby, his hand reeled in later by another unlucky fishermen.

Craig Tansley, Sydney Morning Herald travel section, 21 November 2010

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Gown Man

As recalled by Cyril Neville (of the Neville Brothers):

"If our mother wanted to keep us home, she'd tell us about the Gown Man. He was this big white guy in a hospital gown, and he'd snatch you off the street, put you under his arm, and take you over to the dissection room at Tulane University medical school. They'd pull off your skin and you'd get chopped up by medical students, practicing their autopsies."

And as recalled by his brother Aaron Neville:

"They had the Needle Man, too. Supposed to shove a six-inch needle in your eye, suck your brain out right from the socket."

Mark Jacobson, The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), p. 209