Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Witches

The Black Hat Society Calendar Release Friday the 13th.


Original publish date:  October 12, 2017

A dark cave. In the middle, a boiling cauldron. Thunder. Enter the three Witches. “Round about the cauldron go; In the poison’d entrails throw…Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog,..Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf…Ditch-deliver’d by a drab, Make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron, For the ingredients of our cauldron…Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Witches Chant Macbeth by William Shakespeare .

The Three Witches from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (1827) by Alexandre-Marie Colin. 

The coolest thing to come to Irvington in a very long time has arrived. The Black Hat Society has taken the eastside of Indianapolis by storm. Since their debut at the 2016 Historic Irvington Halloween Festival, their membership has grown as fast as their popularity. The coven of friendly witches was the brainchild of Karin Mullens. In the summer of 2016, Karin saw a video of German witches on facebook and immediately thought of her Irvington neighborhood.

Irvington has long been home to spooky stories, legends and tales of ghosts and goblins. Why not witches too? After all, Irvington is home to the countries longest running Halloween festival, which this year celebrates its 71st annual street festival and costume parade along the Historic National Road. The tradition of the Black Hat Society kicks off this Friday the 13th (would you expect anything less?) with a calendar release at the Irving Theatre at 7:00 pm.

Parade photo by Michael Sullivan Photography.

The public is cordially invited to attend this first ever event free of charge. The Black Hat Society will be out in all their glory to greet fans, well-wishers and friends. The calendar will be available for purchase for $ 20 and if you are lucky, you can get the members to autograph your calendar up close and in person. Dont miss your chance to obtain your very own treasure that is destined to become a cherished memento of Irvington lore in the years to come. Oh, and by the way, you’ll be helping out some local charities at the same time.

The calendar features images of the Black Hat Society witches posed in settings and scenes in and around Irvington. The images, created by photographer Michael Sullivan, are fantastic and each month captures the whimsy of the witches posed in seasonal themes and familiar Irvington businesses. Settings include The Irving Theatre, Jockamos Upper Crust Pizza, Snips Salon & Spa, Lincoln Square Pancake House, Black Sheep Gifts, Artisan Realtors, Irvington Insurance, Coal Yard Coffee, Two Poodles and a Cake, the Irvington Wellness Center, 10 South Johnson Coffee House and of course, the Oakley-Hammond Funeral Home. They are all represented in this debut calendar. What makes the calendar even more fun is the way photographer Sullivan has posed his coven. But you’ll have to discover that on your own because I’m sworn to secrecy and even I know that a promise to a witch is one that should not be broken.

59f611740231b.imageThe charities involved are the Diabetes Youth Foundation summer camp in Noblesville, Helping Paws Pet Rescue and The PourHouse Street Outreach Center. The Black Hat Society hopes to raise $ 10,000 for these worthy charities. In addition, there will be a donation box placed at the entrance of the Irving Theatre during the event. The Black Hat Society requests donations of men’s socks, pet food and cleaning supplies, all of which are in almost constant need by these institutions. Karin informs me that Eric Wilson at Irvington Insurance has helped mightily in spearheading the group’s donation efforts.

Weekly View readers will not be surprised that the ranks of the Black Hat Society are populated by Irvingtonians and east-siders. Karin informs, “We are about 30% Irvingtonians, 20% east-siders (Little Flower, Emerson Heights, Bosart Brown) and the remaining 50% come from nearby communities like Carmel, Greenfield, Franklin, Greenwood and the West side.” The group started out with about 50-60 members, “But we’re up to over 100 members now.” says Karin. “We practiced two times a week for six weeks before we marched in the parade but had out debut at last year’s Spooky Stories on the Circle.”

5bd9b509c774e.imageFrom there, the Black Hat Society marched in the Indy St. Patrick’s Day parade, Pride parade and they recently won a $ 100 prize in a parade in Fountain Square. Should you miss the releases party, never fear, the witches will have their calendars for sale at their booth at the Halloween Festival. The calendars can be ordered on line at and on their facebook page.

I am fortunate, as are many of you, to say that several of the witches are friends of mine. Nancy Tindall-Sponsel, a founding member, may be the most enthusiastic of all the witches. Nancy has her hands full this time of year with her duties as chair of the Halloween Festival, but she always has time to talk about the witches. “It was a big surprise,” she states, “how the group came together so fast. We’re just a group of women that have formed a sisterhood. There are no qualifications for membership, just a willingness to have fun and enjoy.” Nancy states that the group has formed a fellowship that is so close that they can now “haunt” Goodwill stores and thrift shops looking for costume additions. “If we find something for our costume that we already have, we’ll pick it up and share it with other members.” says Nancy.

Dawn Briggs, another founding member, also speaks glowingly of the group. “Most of us are just girls who never got to play dress up,” Dawn says. “We are a Fraternity of friends. There are no cliques. It was instant bonding. We all have fun lifting each other up and raising money for charity.” Dawn continues, “Some of the ladies are shy by nature but when they put on that costume, they change. Even though we’re mostly women, there is no cattiness involved.”

The author and Jan DeFerbrache of the Magic Candle.

Jan DeFerbrache, owner of the Magic Candle, is the unofficial historian of the group. Jan guides the membership in the do’s and don’t’s of witchcraft and makes sure that the members appearances are accurate. Jan’s knowledge helped out during the St. Patrick’s Day parade when most of the marchers wore “earth witch” costumes to better keep within the theme of the holiday.

Paula Nicewanger, creative director of this newspaper, and her husband Steve, are members of the troupe. During last year’s parade Paula was in the coven, but not as a member. She was taking photos of the witches for her newspaper and was swept up inside of the coven as they marched along Washington Street. She had such a good time that she joined the Black Hat Society shortly afterwards. Paula, an accomplished artist, created an original painting that will be turned into a poster that will also be sold at the witches’ Halloween festival booth. The poster depicts five of the witches (Paula, Dawn Briggs, Renee Cotterman, Karin Mullens & Kitty Fenstermaker) in full costume posed around a cauldron.

Paula Nicewanger.

Other founding members include Michelle Roberts, Karen Davis, Sue Beecher, and Leslie Walsh. Michelle has just recently been named Vice-President of the group. Molly McPherson is the official choreographer for the group and helps with the music. Nancy Lynch acts as creative director and arranged the sites used for the calendar photos. I’m repeatedly told that Christy Raymer is the witch to seek out and shake hands with. Apparently Christy has an eyeball on the back of her hand that looks so realistic it’s scary.

It may come as a surprise to some that the Black Hat Society is not entirely made up of women. The group includes a few men too. Along with Steve Nicewanger, Tim Lynch, Dylan Roahrig and Craig Rutherford are among the warlocks in the group. Roger Disher, whose wife Kim is a founding member, is described by some of the girls as a coven member too but I’m told he doesn’t dress up. Kim says, “He’s a quiet member. Support system of sorts.” Kim confirms what many of the other witches say by relating that above all else, the group is “FUN!” and loves supporting the neighborhood and the fact that “we welcome ALL!”

While Steve calls himself a warlock, Dylan wears a kilt for his costume, and Kim calls Roger a quiet member, Black Hat Society member Craig Rutherford proudly calls himself a “male witch.” Craig, the unofficial prop maker for nearly every Halloween Festival event including the Black Hat Society, didn’t march with the witches last year but plans on marching in this year’s parade. And about this year’s parade, every Black Hat Society member agrees that something BIG is in the works for this year. What that something big is has become the best kept secret in Irvington. None of the witches are talking but Craig came closer to anyone by admitting that his role this year will be as a witches’ minion.

53778687_1823021094469367_5747701049993461760_nWhen I asked Craig what it is like to be a male witch surrounded by so many women, he answered succinctly, “It’s lonely.” Craig would like to see more guys join the group. “At last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I made eight drums for our drum line, but we only had 4 drummers. We need more guys!” Craig is amazed by just how generous the witches in the Black Hat Society are, “If I need something for a prop or help in building a set, I get 30 or 40 responses within minutes.”

I’d suggest you make plans now to attend the Halloween festival parade on October 28th. The route is such that you can stake out your optimal viewing position well before it starts. The parade will commence from the Irvington United Methodist Church and head West on Washington Street, then backtrack to the east on Washington to Audubon. The parade will then head South on Audubon and end at Bonna. So bring a chair, stake out your spot and get ready to enjoy the show. But first, head out to the Irving Theatre Friday the 13th from 7:00 to 9:00 and get your calendar before they sell out. As the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth lamented, “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes. Open locks, Whoever knocks!” The witches will be expecting you.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade photo by Nancy Ann Tindall-Sponsel 
Creepy history, Ghosts, Witches

Witch Marks.

w1Original publish date:  July 14, 2010

In the spirit of the approaching Halloween season, I’d like to share a story with you that combines many of the elements that peak my curiosity and fuel my passion for history and folklore. Recently, transplanted British antique dealer and collector Rick McMullen traveled back to his motherland in search of merchandise to sell in his shop or add to his home, which he describes as “virtually architecturally antique.”

Rick journeyed to an antique fair near Lincolnshire County in the Midlands of Great Britain where he found a curious large hand-carved oak panel. The 200 pound panel stood over 7 feet tall and was over 4 feet wide and was made in the “Carolean” style dating to sometime in the 1600’s. He had the panel shipped back to the states along with a Gothic-Victorian Era staircase and a 16th century oak timber frame with the intentions of incorporating all of them into his Virginia home.

However, it was that panel that made Rick’s mind race. What was it? What would he do with it? Where did it come from? When Rick’s wife saw the panel, she thought it might make a good headboard for a bed, but Rick quickly nixed that idea. Instead, the panel was set aside for future consideration while ongoing remodeling projects took precedence. There it would rest in peace until one fateful October evening when Rick was watching the history Channel and he saw something that seemed “hauntingly” familiar.

w2He was watching a documentary about witches and soon a segment flashed across the screen that told about the superstitious markings made by ancient people used to ward off witchcraft. The program talked about an English estate called “Kew Palace”, built in 1631. The owners were particularly superstitious, and believed that evil influences or witches could enter the house disguised as cats or frogs and cast spells on people while they slept. To ward this off, the original carpenters who made the roof carved special secret signs near windows, doors, fireplaces and other vulnerable places, to protect themselves from evil. ( Other ways of protecting a house included hiding old shoes, mummified cats and kittens under the floorboards, or ‘urine bottles’ filled with hair and nail-clippings in special, secret cavities.)

Rick immediately realized that he’d seen these very same markings before but couldn’t remember where. He searched his home and inventory looking for something that might jog his memory. He was about to give up when it came to him. It was the panel.

He turned the panel around and discovered about 40 hand carved figures and markings. These hand-cut marks varied in design and structure from interlaced V’s that more closely resemble fancy old English W’s to numerour carved daisy wheels. McMullen learned that these marks were called “ritual marks” or “apotropais”, a Greek word meaning “Intended to ward off evil” and were an important part of the folklore of Great Britain from the 15th to the 17th centuries. They were designed to keep witches, evil spirits and things that go bump in the night out of the home.

Among the Ancient Greeks the doorways and windows of buildings were felt to be particularly vulnerable to evil. On churches and castles, gargoyles or other grotesque faces and figures would be carved to frighten away witches and other malign influences. Those other openings, fireplaces or chimneys, may also have been carved. Rather than figural carvings, these seem to have been random simple geometric or letter carvings.

Contrary to what you may think, these ritual marks were not displayed prominently in the British Isles. It might make sense to put them over doors and above windows, but they were most often secreted away in hidden places to prevent a witch seeing and combating them. There is evidence of these “witches signs” appearing in churches, homes and other stone buildings all over the British Isles dating back to the late Medieval, Jacobean and Carolean Eras.

w3Rick has no idea where the panel originally came from but he suspects that the symbols were cut into the item by the resident family before being affixed as a softening decoration to an ancient stone wall. That way the marks would be unseen by the casual observer, presumed witch or evil spirit, but still provide protection for the family at the same time. Rick quickly discovered that there has been little formal study of these “witches signs” and historians have offered little support to his theories, choosing instead to dismiss them as silly superstitions.

Rick McMullen surmises that the two sets of deeply carved double V’s invoke the protection of holy Mary, “Virgin os Virgins” and mother of Jesus Christ. He believes that the carved daisy wheels, one of which is 18 inches in diameter, represent the “circle of life” with the petals overlapping each other to effectively become one.

McMullen admits that his theories are based on the scant available research and conjecture on the subject. “It’s quite bizarre,” he says. “But I believe it’s the only one in America…to my knowledge, these ritual marks predate Jamestown (1607, the first English settlement in the United States) and by the 17th century, it’s believed the marks were no longer used.”

However, the tradition can still be found in the often grotesque exaggerated faces carved into pumpkin jack-o-lanterns displayed each Halloween on porches and in windows of houses all over central Indiana. These cute childish symbols of Halloween were originally designed to avert evil and ward off the souls of the dead and other dangerous spirits walking the earth at that time.  Today, carved pumpkins are considered to be a wholesome part of the Halloween season shared by children and their parents in kitchens all over the state. A far cry from the origin of the mysterious ancient cravings known as “witch marks.”