Sunday, July 28, 2013

I Am Connected to an Unsolved Ax Murder

This morning started off like any other Sunday in the Cahalan home. I woke up, laid in bed for a few moments debating whether to bother washing my hair today, and headed out to breakfast. Normal. I dug into my Rice Krispies, my sister into her weird cinnamon toast. Normal. As we groggily ate, my mother leaned across the counter, newspaper in hand, and says, "So, want to hear the creepy, creepy story of the day?"

Now, bearing in mind that this is Logansport and this morning's front page headline involved a routine traffic stop turning up a car filled with IEDs - not kidding - even this odd breakfast detail is not that crazy. What followed this query, though, is unusual indeed.

Today, our local newspaper printed the latest in a series of special supplements honoring Logansport's history in this, its 175th year. We had paid little attention to these in our home before today, but this week's supplement covered the 1930s. My grandparents were all around by then. Maybe they'd remember some of the history from this issue! This one, then, my mother took a glance at.

On the ninth page, an interesting and rather un-Logansporty headline caught her eye: "Unsolved murder plays out in headlines."

Murder? Here? No, no, 1930s, you silly, depressed decade - Logansport doesn't have murders. Logansport has problems with amphetamines. Logansport has comically unfounded middle school bomb threats. Okay, so Logansport has the occasional station wagon full of improvised explosive devices. But, statistically unlikely as this may be, Logansport hardly ever has homicides.

On April 2, 1930, though, a body was discovered in a Logansport home. It was the body of 64-year-old Katie Ray, who lived in the home with her 52-year-old husband, James. To quote the paper, "She was believed to have been beaten to death - evidently with a hatchet." Quelle violence, Logansport!

At this point, though, you're probably all wondering, "Why on earth is Sarah writing a blog post about this?"

Well, well, well. The home in which the unfortunate Mrs. Ray's body was discovered? It belongs to my grandparents. They didn't buy the home until a solid 30 years after this incident occurred, but still, a woman was hacked to death with an ax in the house where my lovely old grandparents have lived since the Kennedy administration.

The foot of the main stairs, where my mother would sit on the phone as a teenager and where my sister and I would play games as wee tots, was the spot where poor Mr. James Ray discovered the body of his brutally and freshly ax-murdered cougar wife. My mother's childhood bedroom was the place where a man tore into someone's head with a hatchet before shoving her over the staircase banister. This is disturbing.

It is also, however - by leaps and bounds - the best story I have heard all summer. A blog post and a probable future book deal are entirely necessary.

Because this tale, of course, does not simply end with the discovery of a body at the foot of the stairs. From there, there were suspects to consider, and there were clues to (quite literally) unearth. The primary suspect, unsurprisingly, was Mr. James Ray, the deceased's husband. He found the body and, from the look of the article, had no real alibi for the gap between his alleged departure from the home and his return and subsequent discovery of the body. Everyone pretty much believed him when he explained he was at the butcher shop for the entire period from 6 to 6:45 AM on a Wednesday. Despite these suspicious details, though, he was never charged with any crime, mostly (from the look of it) because he fainted one time in an interview and guilty people just don't faint. Indeed, in the months following Mrs. Ray's untimely demise, no one at all was charged with or even very seriously suspected of her murder. To this day, the question of who killed Mrs. Katie Ray remains unanswered.

If you ask me, I think the cops somehow knew of the relative dearth of murders in the next 80 years of Logansport's existence and decided to not bother with any, you know, cop stuff because they were determined to leave the most exciting story possible for future residents.

After all, if this story doesn't excite you enough yet, there is more. A full year after the murder, the home's new owners were having some renovations done when they found a trap door built into their living room floor. The police - who, just to make it clear, had obviously failed to ever notice this trap door in any of their investigations - returned to the home to try their hand again at the whole policing thing. Under this trap door, they found the bloody mattress and bedclothes that had been missing from the murder scene. (Previously, they had assumed that the mystery murderer had burned these items in an oven. Because murderers with 45 minutes of action time always burn mattresses in the kitchen stove instead of ditching them somewhere.)

In the end, without a murderer or even a suspect, the case, like the trap door, was closed and forgotten, left to be rediscovered by 21st century Pharos-Tribune archivists or unsuspecting carpet installers. For most Logansport residents, it will stand as simply a weird story from a newspaper history supplement. For us, though, it will forever be the story of the woman who was hatcheted to death in grandma's house.

We talked to our grandparents about this, of course, who informed us that they had no clue about their home's grisly past. While this is a disturbing testament to whoever sold them the place (made creepier by the fact that they bought it from my grandma's sister), the alternative is probably worse. Would you rather my grandparents had known forever that a terrible unsolved murder played out in their daughter's bedroom and a scary trapdoor sat under the living room couch without ever bringing this up with their kids? I think not.

As a function of my grandparents' extreme over-preparation for their own eventual deaths, my mother technically owns their house - and I think it's high time she act on this truth and start ripping up the carpet. I want to find that trap door, and I want, in the most morbid way possible, to take a blacklight to a few of those walls. 83 years is more than enough time for this case to be closed; I say we crack it wide open.

I'll leave you all, in case this story isn't creepy enough standing alone, with the picture that the paper ran along with the article. The photo is of a young Mrs. Ray, some decades before her death, and, as it happens, it enhances your reading experience on two levels. Of course, it provides a visual on the story. But it solves another problem, too. Have you ever read my blog and struggled to picture what my oft-quoted mother looks like?

Well, friends...she looks an awful lot like this.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hawaii Hates Me

So, as many of you have probably discerned from my various forms of social media, I spent the past couple of weeks on a trip to Oahu and Maui, Hawaii. This sounds like a fun, stress-free adventure, does it not?

Well, while my trip did have its fun moments and even its occasional stress-free moments (read: that time I took a 3-hour nap accidentally during scheduled free time), this was not your average Hawaiian vacation. This was my two-week stint as chaperone and blogger for children's choir tour. On this trip, I sat through seven choir concerts, ate 21 mass-group catered meals, and took approximately 3 million pictures of my chaperone group and their friends. Even these things in themselves would not have been that bad. Really! I don't mind. (Much.)

The problem with this trip, my friends, is that Hawaii hates me. I am convinced. The mere combination of the islands' blazing tropical sun and my paper-white skin's unwavering ability to burn should be enough to prove this Hawaii-Sarah animosity. The sun, however, turned out to be just one small problem of a whole slew that America's fiftieth state threw at me over the course of the trip.

First, Hawaii proved to be rather anti-Sarah in its presentation of its history, from sovereign state to U.S. state. In all the history lessons we had during our time in Hawaii, I kept leaving with an insatiable desire to apologize to every native-Hawaiian-looking person I came across. "I'm sorry we stole this country from you!" "I'm sorry we put your queen, a close personal friend of Queen Victoria, in lockdown in her own home because we'd decided her nation wasn't a nation anymore!" "I'm sorry these choir kids are walking around with their audio guide headsets plugged in to Beyonce Pandora stations instead of the actual audio guides!" The history lessons were rough. Do Hawaiians actually resent the US at this point for the various injustices performed against them in colonial times? Probably not - or at least not enough for it to be remotely normal for a random Indiana white girl running around the imperial palace apologizing to people. But still, the overall impression from these lessons? Oh my god Hawaii hates me.

When not in history lessons, there was, of course, the whole sun issue. The angle of the sun in this unreasonably-close-to-the-Equator US state is particularly unforgiving to a burnable person like myself, and I had my fair share of sun troubles during my 12 days on the island. My spray-on sunscreen turned out, unsurprisingly, to be almost totally worthless. Luckily for me, though, the temperature during my first beach trip wearing this sunscreen was so high that I only stayed out for a half hour or so before retreating into the totally empty sea of pool chairs situated in the shade of the hotel's thirty stories. I emerged from this first day with one slightly burnt shoulder and a bright red 2-inch burned patch on my left wrist, but little other color. A success! A few days later, though, we headed out for our hike up Diamondhead Mountain. News had trickled down from our tour director (who was clearly insane) that the hike was both not very strenuous and comprised of large indoor stretches. Everything about this was, of course, untrue, but, like the idiot I am, I headed out pumped for a light hike and wearing exactly no sunscreen.

I should really have seen from miles away that this day would be trouble. Do we all remember my miserable day at Manoventurehell during Vision training last summer? This one? Well, this hike had far too much in common with that day for it to ever have gone well. It was forced physical activity with a large group; it was a ridiculously hot, sunny day; it forced me to elevations rather higher than I typically enjoy; and it even found me wearing the exact same bro tank that gave me the moronic-looking Great Burn of 2012. By the time I'd consumed my weight in the strawberry shave ice sold at the bottom of the mountain and returned to our hotel, my shoulders and chest were just about identical in color to said frozen beverage. Fortunately, though, some areas of my upper body were immune from the burn: those covered by my ill-chosen clothing! Huge white swaths remained where the tank top sat, along with various sizes of snow-white stripes from bra straps and, my particular favorite, the straps from my drawstring backpack.

Jokes aside, this burn did fade almost shockingly fast by my standards - the Great Burn of July 2008 was still detectable at Christmas - but as I had to don a strapless dress about five hours post-hike for our dinner cruise, don't worry, friends - it still ensured that I looked really, really stupid in a large number of our pictures. With this suntan gone wrong, the Hawaii hate fire continued to burn.

The most improbable way in which Hawaii clearly hated me, though, was neither the historical tension nor the blazing, Irish-skin-destroying sun. Rather, Hawaii most obviously hated me in the near-daily injuries it kept throwing my way. It should surprise no one that I'm a pretty uncoordinated lady who, admittedly, runs into stuff pretty often. On this trip, though, my injuries were so frequent as to be truly comical. I tripped over uneven spaces in the pavement and smashed my sandaled foot into solid concrete. I watched helplessly as my computer slid off my bed and landed, phone charger plug-in down, straight on the base of my toenail. I got blisters from new sandals that promised to give their wearers "the happiest feet on earth."

Then, on day 7 of the trip, came the mother of all tour injuries. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, trying to reach over behind me to pick up my shoes from the space they occupied on the short stretch of carpet between the bed and the glass door to our balcony, when I felt myself starting to lose my balance. With nothing to grab on to in front of me, I knew that I was going to have to let myself fall off the bed. This is not unusual. With the plate glass door stationed two feet or so behind my head, though, I realized quickly that I would have to fall strategically. I determined that flipping over so my hands could hit the ground before my skull was probably a good plan. So, as the girls in my chaperone group watched, incredulous and aggressively unhelpful, and my sister, I later learned, nearly choked to death on her lemonade in her laughing at me, I lined up my hands with the ground just in time for the momentum to send me crashing over the edge of the bed.

My strategic falling had prevented any grave skull-to-window injury, and I was ready to write this off as a classically embarrassing but harmless story. Just as I decided I was fine, though, I stood up, shook myself off, and noticed that my leg was bleeding. That's right, people, I hurt myself falling off my bed. As my legs had followed my upper half in its progression to the ground, my left shin had come into pretty serious contact with the hard plastic corner of my suitcase. The adrenaline of the fall kept me from registering the pain of this contact until I noticed it bleeding, but from that moment on, it followed me throughout the trip. I tossed a Band-Aid on the injury and sat back, watching it progress. It - no joke - made it painful to walk for the next couple of days, and the inevitable bruise hit all the color bases, from ruby red (which was particularly disconcerting) to purple to a normal shade of black and blue. With this injury, my hypothesis was finally proven that Hawaii most definitely hates me.

Still looking for proof? Listen to this one. I came home from this trip almost impossibly tan by non-Laura Cahalan family standards. I have never, in my life, been any color but snow white, beet red, or, during my brief severely-jaundiced-infant days, sickly yellow. And I came back from Hawaii with what can really must be called a tan. Sure, it still left me a solid 50 shades lighter than my sister, and sure, it basically just left my skin closer to "manila envelope" than "computer paper," but still - it was a definite tan. Ever since the bed incident, though, I had had a Band-Aid plastered across 3 inches of my left shin. Yesterday morning, I decided to peel the Band-Aid off.

White as the driven snow. I have a tan for the first time in my life, and it is ruined by a Band-Aid tan line.

Hawaii hates me. Let's go back.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Untitled Post About iPhones

After fifteen months as a reluctant member of Android Nation, I finally made the switch to iPhone this past weekend with my family. While I'm glad to finally have the phone that, like, everyone in the world has, Mom, and my sister is glad to be rid of the archaic Samsung that's been holding her in indentured servitude for three years, the Great Switch has left me with a few questions. I love my new iPhone - with the world of emoji reading and sending that it has opened to me and its promise of easy Snapchat screenshotting for whenever one of you sends me something worth saving - but when I gaze upon my charging phone and miss the soothing red charge light of my Galaxy, these are the things that keep me awake at night.

Does this phone brand me as "loser" to 20-something, low-income tech nerds? 
As I stood waiting for my parents' contacts to finish transferring, a gentleman bedecked in Tall Tee and Etnies sneakers like those that your seventh grade class' resident skaters wore asked me what kind of phone mine was. I answered "five," and, registering his confusion, amended my answer to, "iPhone 5." Surprised, the man said, "Aren't you a little young for that?" Assuming he was referring to the idea that fancy phones aren't for kids, I responded, with the real comeback of the century, "Uhh, I'm twenty-one." (Insert facepalm here.) At this point, seeing that I had misinterpreted his question, he explained, "No, no, I mean, iPhones are for old people!" ...But like are they though? Thinking over my vast network of iPhone-equipped friends and weighing whether that many twenty-first birthday parties could really have been retirement celebrations in disguise, I decided this man must have been crazy. His words resounded in my head all day, though, so I eventually caved and did a Google search for "iPhone old people???". To my surprise, I did find other evidence of this mantra...and other evidence that it's crazy. "iPhones are for old people" is, in fact, a fairly commonly held belief of the young and tech-enthused. "For people with disposable income, and more stuff to do than sit around customizing their Androids!" Sorry, Etnies man, but I don't think I'm going to trade in my "young and hip" card any time soon.

Is the government spying on me through this phone? 
Yesterday, I used the maps feature on my iPhone for the first time. I'll admit, it was pretty cool on some level to watch the route on the map adapt to my location as my mom's minivan tooled down the highway - but it was also creepy. The navigation features on my Droid never even remotely functioned, so going from 0 to 60 on accurate global satellite mapping this quickly is a bit disconcerting. Watching that little blue dot pulse its way across the map like Gatsby's green light, I couldn't help but wonder, "Am I being surveilled right now?" Answer still pending on this one. I'll keep you posted.

Why are emojis their own separate keyboard?
This one is, like, an actual technical question about this phone. Why are emojis an extra keyboard? To use emojis, for those of you who don't know, you have to scroll through the foreign language keyboard list and pick out the one wedged between "Dutch" and "Estonian." Emojis are not a language, Apple. Stop trying to convince the people of America that they are bilingual. They are not.

Does Siri hate me? 
If you ask me, I have been a pretty benevolent master to the unpaid virtual servant that is Siri. I haven't asked her anything funny disturbing like "What's a good place to hide a body?". I haven't forced her to tell me jokes or keep me entertained. The first thing I even used her for was to tell her she was cool, and she responded by deflecting compliment after compliment like the shy girl at prom. Really, I haven't asked her much at all. I don't necessarily find it convenient to speak my queries aloud into my phone speaker like some kind of idiot. Typing my questions into a Google search is fine with me. But when I do ask Siri questions, she insists on messing with me. If I mumble a bit or cough mid-question, she inserts whole extra phrases into my questions. Just the other day, she turned "what is the current humidity in Honolulu" (don't ask) into "Howell Howell in humidity Honolulu." She had gotten through "what is the current temperature in New Orleans" with flying colors only moments before, even deigning to add the state as if I didn't know it and to correct my pronunciation of "Orleans." Yet the second I struggle a bit with voicing my question, she turns it into a ridiculous mockery.

Yesterday, the Siri struggle returned when I asked her, "How big is Noblesville, Indiana?" She sat there thinking for a moment, then spat back at me the physical size specifications for Noblesville and the surrounding area in square feet, square meters, square miles, and square toadstools, before beeping again like she knew I was going to rebut with a more specific version of my question. "Fine, Siri," I said, "What is the population of Noblesville, Indiana?" She answered me promptly and went on to provide the populations for Fishers, the Indy metro area, and, inexplicably, Chicago, and we all moved on with our lives. But come on, Siri. In all of your artificial intelligence training, you never learned that "how big" a city is generally refers to its population size? I don't think so. I think Siri knew exactly what I meant, and that she simply wanted to call me out on my vague question. You can sass me all you want, Siri, but at least I know that there should be a comma between a city and its state. Take that, Siri. Take that.

In all, Team iPhone is a pretty good place to be. It's infinitely easier to use than my Droid, it's about half as big and a third as brick-ish, and it has finally brought my sister into the simpler world of selfies with a front-facing camera. My parents clearly enjoy the bells and whistles, as I just heard my mother telling Siri to "call Laura" as she walked through the house. It's granted me instant access, through the still somewhat confusing iMessage, to the knowledge of exactly which of my friends are and are not cool enough for iPhones. These questions do linger, though, and I'm sure others will arise as I continue to get to know my new phone.

Until they do, you can find me giddily experimenting with Instagram video and deciding whether it's appropriate to use my favorite emoji - the cat with hearts for eyes - in casual iMessage chats with guys.