>Travel Blogging 4

>From “Theophilus The Battle-Axe: A History Of The Lives And Adventures Of Theophilus Ransom Gates And The Battle-Axes”, by Charles Coleman Sellers, 1930:

“A highly eccentric old lady of sixty-one years, Hanna Shingle [or Schenkel, or Shenkel]  lived alone at the head of the Valley, just above the old church, in a little stone house surrounded by rocks and brambles and in a state of general disrepair. She had a few acres of ground which the neighbors tilled in return for a share of the produce. Her eccentricity [had] been traced to stern parents. It is said that she had been very handsome once, with curls down her back, and had ridden to church on horseback, to the admiration of all who saw her. Some of her wedding clothes had been made, and the time of the wedding near, when her parents found fault with her lover and intervened.

The Shingle (or Shenkel) Homestead

 “Now we find Hannah Shingle a very peculiar old person, with a very small and slovenly farm, three cows, a sow and some pigs …. Small boys would come sneaking through the briars to steal her pears, scattering like startled deer as the old woman would rush from her door, an ancient and quite harmless musket in her hands, threatening death in her shrill voice. She had two weapons for her protection, the old gun and an axe. The gun was chiefly for small boys, the axe she kept under her bed, against more formidable intruders. There were rumors abroad that the old soul had laid away a hoard of gold, and an attempted robbery had increased her watchfulness. In October [1855] her sister visited and sought to persuade her to live with relatives, but Hannah had her gun and her axe and would not think of leaving.
She’s here somewhere, I used to know where the headstone was. Unfortunately many more are illegible now.

“A week later, John Miller, who was helping with the farm, found the door locked, and could get no answer to his knocking. He brought some neighbors and they forced an entrance. [Finding prepared food cooling in the otherwise empty kitchen,] …they stamped hastily up the narrow stair. In a little whitewashed bedroom above lay Hannah Shingle, her feet on the floor, her body and crushed head stretched out on the bed. There were marks of fingernails on her throat. The furniture was in disorder, the white walls splashed with blood, and there was a crimson pool on the floor, flowing out from under the bed. On a pillow, the murderer had left a bloody print of his bare foot, showing even the toenails. The robber had climbed a ladder to an upper window, probably in the early evening, and the old lady had left her cooking below to show him her prowess with the axe. It seemed obvious that the murderer was familiar with the ground, was someone in the Valley.”

(The culprit was never found. This is part of a somewhat longer history of the Valley which includes a naturalist, spouse-swapping religious sect, but that’s for another day.)

>Travel Blogging 3


The local “spooky house”; building began sometime in the early 1960s, according to local sources, for an older man who had bought the land and who had planned to live there alone. However, he died before the house was finished, and it has sat there ever since, quietly falling apart. As kids, we were discouraged from setting foot onto the property, and mostly we avoided it. One assumes that the heirs either have no idea that they have the land, or it’s tied up in a contested will, because otherwise who would hang on to this nice quiet patch of woodland and let a little house there fall to pieces?

>Travel Blogging 2


A little village near here, known for its historic gingerbread facades, fancy restaurant and rock falls, sprang up originally due to an iron mine and a quarry, both closed long ago. Behind the village are traces of the abandoned railroad which serviced the operations.

 Most of the rail bed is now unmarked trail. The cinder bed remains visible, and some wooden ties here and there. The largest remains are the wooden bridges over the creek.

Above and below, two views of the same bridge.

A second bridge encountered closer to the road. When the mines were open (from 1845-1928), the hillside was barren. When they closed, the forest began to take over. The land now belongs to State Game Lands.

>Forgotten Innsbruck: “Kropferte Liesl”


Austrian Empress Maria Theresia gave birth to 16 children, ten of which survived into adulthood (pregnancy seems to have given her extra spurts of energy which she then used to accomplish such things like reorganizing the army or conducting wars.) Her eldest son Joseph succeeded her as monarch, and her most famous child is probably Maria Antonia (better known by the French version of her name.) These two and all the others are subject of the book which I am currently reading, “Maria Theresias Kinder: 16 Schicksale zwischen Glanz und Elend” (Maria Theresia’s Children: 16 Fates Between Glory and Misery), Hanne Egghardt, 2010.

After the unexpected death of her husband, Franz I Stephan, during a trip to Innsbruck, Maria Theresia founded a Damenstift for noble ladies there. A Damenstift (or Frauenstift) is a sort of monastery for women, but differs from a convent in that, unlike nuns, the residents were not bound by holy orders. They were required to participate in prayer and masses, but enjoyed many more personal freedoms as well as the option to leave if they so wished. The Stift founded by Maria Theresia was set up so that prayers would be said around the clock for the soul of the deceased Emperor (I assume carried out in shifts.) As most of the noblewomen were under quite young, it may well have resembled a sort of Catholic girls’ boarding school, without classes or teachers. 

When Maria Theresia died, Joseph made sweeping changes in Austrian government as well as to his own household, moving out the two “spinster” sisters still living in the palace (‘Weiberwirtschaft‘.) Maria Anna (“Marianne”) had always been in poor health and was never married off; she went by her own choice to a monastery in Klagenfurt. Maria Elisabeth had been a lovely, unserious young woman consumed with her beauty, fashion and society until a debilitating case of the pox laid her low. She survived but was literally scarred for life. All her marriage prospects dried up at once, and she stayed well out of the public eye for three years. Elisabeth, it was decided, was to go to the Damenstift in Innsbruck, and it was a turning point in her life.

After a childhood and youth in which her looks were everything, and the depressing years following her illness, Elisabeth began to find her self-confidence. She gained a high position in the community, received the Pope during his visit to Innsbruck. She never lost her sharp wit, nor her sharp tongue — she called Emperor Franz II “the boor”, Archduke Ludwig “the sneak”, the Archbishop of Oelmitz the “little nest-shitter”. Freed from all pressure to be attractive for marriage, she gained quite a bit of weight and became known for her triple chin, which she even showed off on occasion by pulling aside her veil and “letting them swing like billiard balls”.

When troops neared town (first Revolutionaries, then Napoleon’s) the ladies of the Damenstift were forced to flee, and in 1806 they ended up in Linz. Elisabeth died there in 1808 and was laid to rest in the cathedral.

>Weekend Mountain Blogging: Höttinger Alm


The Höttinger Alm, 1487 meters above sea level,  opened for the season on Saturday.

“Frau Hitt”, looking like a finger pointed in the air. Probably the closest I’ll ever get to it, not being much of an experienced climber. (Makes a nice desktop screen shot, too.)

It was a relief to get back down to the warmer valley, and back into spring. On the way down I noticed a shrine of stones to a recent (2010) avalanche victim named Thomas Charry. It looked new-ish and more than the usual little plaque, so I looked up the name later: he was a ski photographer and blogger (link to blog, in French). His blog is being maintained by family, and they have been putting up Charry’s photos (both of him and by him) regularly. Which prompts me to remind all bloggers to have your passwords and account information stored where a trusted someone can access/delete/memorialize your pages, should you die suddenly. There are thousands of frozen, inaccessible sites out there, the bloggers having died and taken their account information with them to the grave. Write it down and stash it somewhere safe (but not impossible to find!)

>Pagans In Tirol: Der Judenbühel


 Below the Alpenzoo, close to the Hungerburgbahn, is a bridge to a hill called the Judenbühel, or literally, Jews’ Hill. From a cursory online search I found that the first written reference to it is from 1598, when a Jewish local man got permission from court to establish a family plot there, “where the old Jewish graves were”. 

The old Jewish cemetery (rediscovered and now an historical site — the actual cemetery moved to the Westfriedhof in the 19th century) is found on a southern slope, not at the top. The top of the Judelbühel is as flat as a pancake, as wide as a parking lot, and circular. It currently holds a grassy park with a playground.

 The sides of the hill are covered with moss and trees, but there are places where the ground is eroding. And here you can see that there are no stones in this ground at all, it’s all just earth and tree roots. Which I find unusual, since this whole region full of rocks and boulders of all sizes. Was it landscaped in the last 100 years, or did it slowly grow, like the altar mound atop the Goldbichl?

 There may be perfectly modern answers about the flat-topped Judelbühel (maybe the top was landscaped for the playground in the last century or two?), but I haven’t found them yet. In the meantime I am left with comparisons to the Hexelbodele near Birgitz, and Schlern, and Bergisl and the Kalvarienberg, and other flat-topped hills which have histories as places of pre-historic communion. 
Which brings me back to Norbert Mantl and a few things he speculated about, in his book about pre-christian relics in the Inn Valley. One was that a few place-names beginning with “Jud-” are morphed from “Haid-” or some medieval version of it, which means “heathen”, which makes sense if you remember that to the early Christians (and in some places today too), Jews were just another kind of heathen. Mantl writes:

‘[The Judenbühel] is supposed to have gotten its name from the old Jewish cemetery which had been here… however it always questionable to view such cases as chapters of Jewish history. The Judenbühel is a “heathen” hill and for this reason only did the Jewish cemetery end up here, because Jews, as arch-heathens, could only be buried where other heathens were buried. One would never have allowed [in the Middle Ages] a Jewish cemetery to be built in such a beautiful place, if the Judenbühel and its neighbor the Ruch* had not already been home to the oldest and most evil form of heathendom. [Here I think he is referring to the Three Bethen.] Stone-age finds were made on the hill, therefor there was a very old settlement here and one can assume with some certainty that the hill was a holy place**, from which it got its name in early Christian times, independent from  later Jewish settlement in Innsbruck.’

 Smack in the middle, traces of a regular campfire. Who makes these fires? Just squatters? An uneasy thought — I don’t know any local Pagans whom I can ask ( if maybe the fires are ceremonial), but there are elements of the neo-nazi scene which goes in for the Pagan, the mythological, the old ur-Germanic. The idea that they might be “keeping the fires lit” on these ancient meeting grounds does give one pause. Then again, what do I know, it might be the Scouts.
*I don’t know what the “Ruch” is.

** Why? Mantl does this all the time, assumes that because it was used, it was a holy place.

>Forgotten Innsbruck: Osterfeld

>Last week the City Museum hosted a talk on a rather obscure but interesting little corner of Innsbruck, specifically a field at the edge of town called Osterfeld, in Amras. This little piece of land was farmland for a long time, and for the past few decades it’s held community garden plots. But for a couple of years it was the resting place (not so final, it turned out) for the hundreds of victims of the Allied bombing raids on Innsbruck. Plans were underway to make the Osterfeld into a new, central cemetery in Tirol, not only for the air strike victims but for the newcomers from South Tirol, who had no family plots up here. According to an article in ORF, the landowner initially refused to give over his property, so the authorities simply had him reconscripted into the war. He survived, and returned after the war’s end to demand that the bodies be exhumed from his land. They were then transferred into a memorial plot in the cemetery in Pradl.

What seems like something that everyone would remember, ended up being another part of the general amnesia concerning events from that time. Eventually the community garden plots were parceled out, and all was forgotten until 1979, when a woman came upon two small cross pendants in the earth. And then a piece of bone, which upon further inspection was determined to be human. Which means that not everyone made it in one piece into the new cemetery.

I asked Paschberg, an Amras resident, for his take on this story, and he in turn asked his mother if she could remember the field’s use as a wartime cemetery. She remembered a convoy of trucks bearing coffins as it passed her family home, and this must have been even more keenly remembered due to the fact that one of her cousins, a young woman barely 18, lay in one of the coffins. (15.04.11. This I misread; her cousin was indeed killed in that air raid but was buried later in the regular Amras cemetery, not in Osterfeld and so would not have been among the dead transported there.)
She also noted that one did not ask questions at the time, nor speak too pointedly about anything with the neighbors, lest it all be turned around somehow and used against you. It must have been somewhat frustrating for my informant, quite the train enthusiast, to find that another victim of that collective amnesia had been a railway by-pass, not 100 meters from the family home, built to circumvent the (bombed out) train station, and promptly and completely forgotten after the war. As he tells it, describing what the older generation remembered of the line, “[i]t just appeared. One didn’t ask questions, nor did one make trouble to find out when – or even if – trains ran, and afterward it was just another thing to forget as quickly as possible. All in all, a time of deliberate looking away.”


>There’s a blog called After The Final Curtain, by photographer Matt Lambros, dedicated to the documentation of old abandoned movie theaters and news of restorations. The photographs are awesome.

Closer to home: in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, a group of private citizens fought hard to take over and restore the Colonial Theater, which had been sitting in disrepair for years. The Colonial is now a major draw to the town, showing slightly-off-beat films, old silent movies, and live concerts. “The Blob”, a 1950s horror movie filmed nearby, was the inspiration for the incredibly popular annual “Blobfest” (highlight: the Running Out re-enactment, where lucky volunteer crowds are filmed as they run out of the theater, screaming.)

h/t to Benedikt