Saturday, August 16, 2014

Luna Park Melbourne

Luna Park, Melbourne, opened on Friday 13th in December 1912 to a first-night crowd of 22,000 people. One of five Luna parks created - and one of two still open today - Luna Park Melbourne was developed on the site of a demolished fun park called Dreamland by American Film producer James Dixon Williams.  Later to become famous for the creation of the film company First National Film (Warner Brothers) and signing the most lucrative film contract of its time with actor Charlie Chaplin, JD Williams arrived in Australia in 1910.  Teaming up with fellow Americans, the Phillips brothers, JD Williams developed Luna Park, which on its opening night was illuminated by 15,000 electric lights.

Still having the oldest continually operating roller coaster in the world and the largest and most elaborate carousel in the Southern Hemisphere, Luna Park is perhaps best known for its iconic 'Mr Moon' entrance, the mouth of which visitors have to walk through to enter the park.  Luna Park has a rich and interesting history, including some unusual deaths.  In 1913, a snake charmer called Henry Deline died violently in the first week of his season performing at the park.  Deline's act involved a woman known as "Sleeping Beauty" who laid very still as he placed snakes on her body.  As Deline was taking a tiger snake from the box of snakes, it hissed and bit him.  The woman known as "Sleeping Beauty" tried to save Deline by cutting the wound and sucking the poison out; it was to no avail, as Deline died.  The act caused fainting and screaming in the audience.
In 1926, a Mr Clarence Hurst was killed on the Scenic Railway as he turned to talk to someone, hitting his head on one of the support pylons. 1935 saw a Mr Dyer fall from a car at the high point of the Big Dipper, while just a year later a Harry Maltby died falling from one of the trolley cars and being struck by another.  Probably the most unusual chain of events that led to three shootings happened in 1940. Staff and three youths were arguing when one of the staff members pulled out a gun he was authorised to carry as part of his job transporting earnings from the park.  In the ensuing dispute, an onlooker was shot, a woman leaving the park was shot and killed by a stray bullet, and another attendant who took the gun from the first park worker shot himself by accident. 

It seems reasonable to say that, with this amount of violent death, it is to be expected that there have been sightings of unusual and unexplained phenomena.  The most famous sighting is that of "The Joker", first reported in 1940.  He has been reported as suddenly appearing on the track of the Scenic Railway in front of oncoming cars; or, more terrifyingly, appearing in the cages of the Ferris Wheel, terrifying patrons. 

I have been to Luna Park in Melbourne many times and, though it's a place that's fun, there is something a little disconcerting about entering into the sinister-looking Mr Moon's mouth.  The rickety sound of the Scenic Railway can be slightly disturbing, as can the cacophony of fairground music to which the dark spirited horses following the Eagle Chariot, the gentler horses following the Peace Chariot, and the golden lead horse, cavort up and down on their never-ending radial journey. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Caressing the south bank of the river Tweed is Abbotsford, the beautiful home of renowned Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Lovingly referred to as his 'Conundrum Castle' I visited his auspicious home just as spring was starting and the first of the seasons flowers were bravely poking their heads up in search of the sun.
As soon as you walk into the walled gardens of the property you feel as though you have slipped back in time. Throughout the gardens are statues and other such follies, all adding to the magical feeling of the place.  What is most impressive is Scott's collections which decorate the house and even the garden in the form of ancient stones.  There are gifts from Lord Byron, Flora MacDonald's purse and even the key for the tower Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in. His collection is eclectic and astonishing.

It is said that Sir Walter Scott saw a ghost in his own home.  He was awakened by loud noises and armed with a sword went looking for the source of the disturbance. He couldn't find anything but the noises apparently coincided with the death of the head builder of Abbotsford, while the building was in progress.  The builder, George Bullock died in London before the building was completed and has apparently been seen at Abbotsford a few times since his death. 
I am not sure if it was merely being overwhelmed by standing with in touching distance of such things as Byron's mourning ring or a sword belonging to Rob Roy but I believe I saw something at Abbotsford.
It was a cool day and I was standing looking towards the River Tweed from the room in which it is said Sir Walter Scott died, when I saw the figure of a man, his back to me. He was wearing a black, grand coat with a high collar.  I didn't see his face and the second I was distracted he was gone.  It was a quiet day and all the other tourists that had arrived at opening time when I did where still inside.  The figure had appeared and disappeared.  I have no idea who it was but his clothes seemed incongruent to the time.  I like to think it was one of the many ancient visitors that had come to Abbotsford to spend time with Sir Walter Scott or perhaps Scott himself looking at his beloved river in the shadow of his adored Abbotsford. 

If you are interested in more information there is a wonderful website