I woke up yesterday morning to this message from my friend Cecilia:
"Louise, are we buying Poveglia? Let's timeshare that s**t."
Along with Cecilia's eloquent question, I found my Facebook and email littered with messages about the "the World's Most Haunted Island" being up for sale. Tell a few ghost stories on the Internet, and before long you too will be your friends' dumping ground for all creepers great and small.
And this one sure is great.
In case anybody missed the memo, Poveglia, a small island not far from Venice, Italy is up for auction by the Italian government. Long reputed to be cursed, possessed, haunted, and literally covered with the remnants of the island's past victims (more on that later), the starting bid of the island is $490,000 USD. Venetian mayor Georgio Orsoni "suggested that the island be redeveloped as a youth or cultural center rather than a luxury hotel."
Nothing says after-school arts and crafts quite like plague pits and a former insane asylum.
Poveglia seems to have a somewhat controversial history. Many believe its reputation as a repository for human suffering is overhyped, and that the island, desolate and in disrepair, is rather lovely and would be a welcome respite from the chaos of Venice.
Others, like my favorite Ghost Bro and yours, Zak Bagans of "Ghost Adventures" isn't so sure that it's all so right on at Poveglia, dude. Check it here, as Zak gets the ghost-rage from the spirits of Poveglia.
Alright, I'm not using "Ghost Adventures" as my basis for proof of paranormal activity on Poveglia, but since this is Creepy Corner, I'll share with you my spooky findings about the island, and ask for you to come to your own conclusions.
During the Roman Era, Poveglia was a dumping ground for bodies of plague victims. In order to keep the plague from spreading, thousands of bodies were brought to the island, dumped in mass graves, and set on fire.
Later, when the Bubonic Plague broke out in Italy around the 1500s, thousands more Italians, both living and dead, were yanked from their homes and brought to Poveglia in order to keep the rest of the population safe. If you were even suspected of having the Bubonic Plague, either while in Venice or approaching it by ship, off to "quarantine" on Poveglia you went.
Italian doctors were supposedly on the island the minister to the sick, but it was no secret that being to Poveglia was a death sentence -- a horrifying, inhumane, death sentence. The living were dumped with the dead willy-nilly, many of which were young children wrenched from their families. Accounts claim that approximately 160,000 corpses were dumped to rest on Poveglia, and that the soil is now a mucky 50/50 mix of dirt and human remains.
In 1922 a senior rest home was opened on the island. Well, some say "senior rest home" others say "insane asylum." It is rumored that the cruel doctor who oversaw the asylum conducted brutal surgical "tests" on the residents that basically amounted to physical and mental torture, as well as lobotomies.
All the while, residents of the asylum claimed to be plagued by the moans and screams of the plague victims' spirits. Of course they were considered "insane" in the first place, so their complaints were largely ignored.
Eventually it seems, the doctor himself started being tormented by the spirits of both plague victims and his own victims, and he leapt to his death from the top of Poveglia's iconic bell tower, a remnant of a church that was demolished on the island.
It is rumored that the doctor was dragged against his will up the steps of the bell tower, begging and screaming for mercy, by angry inmates. And that instead of leaping, he was thrown, and that upon hitting the ground below -- still alive -- a mist rose up from the earth and smothered him.
Take that, Dr. Death.
That's a very brief history of the island of Poveglia. There's much more involving invasions and wars and battles and bloodshed. But when it comes to ghosts, those are the major relevant facts.
And what about the ghosts?
Aside from general reports of screams and moans being heard coming from the deserted island, and the bell reportedly still ringing when there is no bell in the tower, there are a few specific ghosts that are said to haunt Poveglia.
There's "Striding Peter" who in life was a legless amputee bound to a wheelchair, but now as a spirit "walks" around the island at great speed. The "swish! swish!" sound his speed creates, like that of a scythe cutting through overgrowth, has earned him another name, "The Reaper." Something about a really fast moving ghost, "swishing" around the island chills me.
Then there's the Malamoccina, also called "Little Maria." A little plague victim who has been seen crying on the shores of Poveglia for around 400 years, facing her home of Malamocco.
"Happy Fred" is heard giggling and laughing, not unkindly, all over the island at all times of day and night. "Staring Anna" walks about the halls of the former asylum and lies in her bed, her eyes wide in fear of the doctor, and "Johnny-in-the-Oven" haunts the the crematorium where he was burnt alive after a botched procedure.
More frightening to me is the belief that there is a demon or demons on Poveglia that will try to follow you home once you step foot on the cursed island.
Striding Peter will harry you as far as the shore. Staring Anna will gaze at you from a ward window. Johnny won't stray too far from the oven. But the Poveglian demon will accompany you home, sitting quietly at your side in the motorboat, biding its time like an entity in an M R James story.
No thank you Poveglia, you can keep your demons.
Countless psychics, mediums, and ghost hunters have visited Poveglia (by permission from the government only), and have dubbed it haunted -- depressing, angry, possessed by evil. Still some skeptics hold that while the island indeed has a frightening history, the reputation of Poveglia precedes it and that there is nothing foreboding or ominous about the place.
Ransom Riggs of Mental Floss called Poveglia some place one might want to stop for a picnic.
Is the power of suggestion hard at work on Poveglia, or have the hundreds of years of suffering left an inedible mark on its earth -- human remains aside -- that is manifested in the restless souls of its victims?
Personally, Poveglia is one of those places I'd be all excitement and curiosity to visit, but on the boat ride over, I'd most likely start psyching myself out. I'm of the firm belief that ghosts or not, sometimes it's best not to hassle the dead. With all the bad juju that has accumulated over the years, if any place could have some freaky stuff going on, Poveglia would be it. I suppose my stance is that as far as hauntings go, I'm a "cautious believer" in Poveglia -- I'm not totally sold on the reality of it being haunted, but it's hard for me to dismiss.
Nonetheless, I won't be putting in a bid any time soon.