An Island and a Saddistic Doctor

If you are like me, and the hopes of visiting a real life haunted house, or haunted town, go to Savannah, Ga or even Charleston, SC. I for one, even if it weren’t abandoned, or forbidden, would not go to Poveglia. It is actually up for auction the last I heard, may have even been sold by now.

Either way, makes for a great story, so grab your coffee, curl up in your favorite chair and enjoy.

Poveglia is a cursed and mysterios island, where strange historical events have shaped its reputation as the darkest place of the Venice Lagoon and labeled this island the most haunted in the world.

Poveglia had been a thriving and populated island, however with the outbreak of the war of Chioggiain 1378-the fourth and last conflict between Genoa and Venice- its inhabitants were moved to the island of Giudecca. From that very moment this island remained deserted for three hundred years.

Since 1645, it was then employed as an outpost to control the transit of ships in the lagoon with aim of protecting Venice. Proveglia’s darkest moments will date back to more recent years, when due to the 1700 Black Death, the island became a lazaretto (an open-air cemetary), where quarantined people-even those with the slightest signs of sickness were sent to die.

I ask you, what if they had done this to us when COVID hit?

But to continue…Bodies were left on the island’s streets to decompose. Then they were burnt and their ashes were thrown in mass graves. It is said that more than 160,000 people died in agony during the bubonic plague. Today, strata of bone can be found beneath the surface, which is made up of 60% of human ashes.

Historical reconstructions were done, and during that time, in that period, the island was also the scene of the execution of criminals, who were usually killed by drowning. But believe me, this isn’t the scariest part of the story, at least not for me.

In 1922, the buildings hosted a home for the elderly. The furniture still present today witnesses that the building was actually an asylum. From the moment a person was diagnosed with a mental illness and taken to Poveglia, there was no possibility of redemption or rehabilitation. (What does that say for you or me? Those we love?) The only aim of the new use of the island was to isolate these people, and separate them from society. It’s important to remember, in the past, any uncommon way of thinking and behavior different from the socio-cultural norms of the time, was considered mental disorders. Anyone could be identified as mentally ill and locked up.

Local legend has it that the patients of Poveglia asylum reported that they saw strange shadows-probably belonging to the ghosts of the plague victims- and that they could not sleep at night because of the wails of the suffering spirits. Of coarse, the doctors did not believe them. Patients were subjected to tortures, sometimes death. It is believed that a sadistic doctor did evil experiments on them, even performed labotomies, as he believed that this cruel practice was a great way to treat and cure mental illness. This procedure was incredibly wicked and painful, as the doctor used hammers, chisels and drills without anesthesia or any concern for sanitation.

Because of the doctor’s practices, he was tormented by the ghosts who drove him crazy to the point where he jumped (or was thrown) from the clock tower that stands out on the lagoon. The legend tells that he did not die from the fall, but that he was chocked before by a mysterious fog. In some silent and calm nights you can still hear the bell tolling across the bay, despite being removed years ago.

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Forbidden Island

Voices Past, Present, and Future would like to introduce to you one of the most forbidden places to visit in the world.

North Sentinel Island is home to the Sentinelese, an indigenous people in voluntary isolation who have defended, by force, their protected isolation from the outside world.

  • In order to prevent the tribal community from getting foreign diseases to which they have no acquired immunity, these people are protected under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Act of 1956. This act prohibits travel to the island and any approach closer than five nautical miles. The area is patrolled by the Indian Navy.

Has anyone ever left North Sentinel Island?

  • In 1896, a convict escaped from the penal colony on Great Andaman Island on a makeshift raft and drifted across the North Sentinel beach. His body was discovered by a search party some days later with several arrow-piercings and a cut throat. The party recorded that they did not see any islanders.

How many Sentinelese are left?

  • It is estimated that there are 50-200 people, and that they support their numbers with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle by building canoes for fishing and crabbing, and hunting small game with bows, arrows and spears.

Is it illegal to go to the North Sentinel Island?

  • This is supposedly one of the most dangerous and hardest places to visit on the planet, deep in the Indian Ocean is where you will find this island.
  • This place is so dangerous that the Indian governmet has banned its people from going anywhere near it.
  • Going within three miles of the islnad is actually illegal.

Death of an American tourist:

The death of an American tourist who illegally visited the isolated North Sentinel Island had drawn the world’s attention to the small island’s reclusive inhabitants. Over the last 200 years, outsiders have visited the island several times, and it often ended badly for both sides.

Why don’t the Sentinelese like visitors?

One night in 1771, an East India Company vessel sailed past Sentinel Island and saw lights gleaming on the shore. The ship was on a hydrographic survey mission and had no reason to stop, so the Sentinelese remained undisturbed for nearly a century, until an Indian Merchant ship called the Nineveh ran aground on the reef. 86 passengers and 20 crew managed to swim and splash their way to the beach. They huddled there for three days before the Sentinelese evidently decided the intruders had overstayed their welcome. This was a point they made with bows and iron-tipped arrows.

Western history only records the Nineveh’s side of the encounter, but it’s interesting to speculate on what might have been happening in Sentinelese villages behind the scenes.

  • Was there a debate about how to handle these newcomers?
  • Did the shipwreck victims cross a boundary or violate a law unknown to them, prompting the Sentinelese to respond?
  • Did it just take three day to decide what to do?

The Nineveh’s passengers and crew responded with sticks and stones, and the two sides formed an uneasy detente until a Royal Navy vessel arrived to rescue the shipwreck survivors.

Visits to the island have been sporadic until 1981….. In 1974, a National Geographic crew tagged along and the director caught an arrow in the thigh for his trouble. The exiled King Leopold III of Belgium passed close to the island on a boat tour in 1975, and the Sentinelese warned him off with arrows.

In 2004, the Indian Coast Guard helicopters flew over the island after the 2004 tsunami. They found that the Sentinelese were in good shape and not at all pleased to see the Coast Guard. They attacked the helicopter with bows and arrows.

In 2006, an Indian crab harvesting boat drifted ashore, and the Sentinelese killed both fisherman and buried their remains.

Given the history of the Sentinelese islanders it is not surprising that these peoples saw American tourist John Allen Chau as a trespasser when he stepped onto their island earlier this month and stood on the beach singing hymns. They had chased him away twice, but when he ventured ashore a third time, it is believed that the Sentinelese killed him, and now it appears that they have buried his remains. The Indian government has called off the search for Chau’s body, citing danger to both search personnel and the Sentinelese people.

Voices Past, Present, and Future hopes that you enjoyed the trip to the forbidden island of the Sentinelese people. I hope that you are like me and choose not to make this an island of choice to try and visit.

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