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5 Ghosts Haunting The Sports World

As baseball season cranks up, so will talk about hardball's various paranormal activities. This year will likely feature more talk than ever about the Curse of the Billy Goat, the hex that's supposedly played a role in the Chicago Cubs not winning the World Series in a century. The Billy Goat and Babe Ruth aren't sports' only prominent ghosts, though. Here are a few spooks that might not have frightened you yet.

1. Eddie Plank

Plank was Major League Baseball's first left-handed pitcher to win 300 games, and he ended his illustrious career in1917 with an impressive 326 victories against just 194 losses. You'd think all that pitching would have made him eager to move on to other endeavors, but apparently not. Although Plank passed away in 1926, he's still trying to pitch.

In 1996, the Hall of Famer apparently got the urge to start pitching again. In the middle of the night, the owner of the Gettysburg, PA, house where Plank had died heard a repetitive series of noises. A man would grunt, then there would be a thud and the sound of footsteps. Apparently, Plank was launching pitches to a catcher, who would occasionally have to chase down an errant toss. The owner determined that not only must the noises have come from Plank's ghost, but that the "ball" was traveling sixty feet, six inches, exactly the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate in baseball. The noises supposedly stopped within a month of the first pitch, possibly because ghosts play a shorter season than living baseball players.

2. The Hockey Hall of Fame

The Toronto home of the Hockey Hall of Fame is a repository of memorabilia and anecdotes about some of the greatest players in hockey history. However, the ghost that allegedly haunts the building probably never skated a shift in her life.

Since moving to its current digs in 1993, the Hall has enjoyed the company of Dorothy, the ghost of an employee of the Bank of Montreal branch formerly housed in the building. As the legend goes, Dorothy was a vivacious teller at the bank when, in 1953, she showed up for work early and promptly shot herself. Legends can't seem to agree on exactly where or why the young woman took her own life, but whatever her motivations, Dorothy wasn't gone long. Soon after her death, employees started hearing noises in the bank late at night and noticed that things were inexplicably moving around on their desks. Visitors and employees continue to report hearing Dorothy walking around, encountering cold spots, and feeling a presence while in the Hall.

3. Owen Hart

owen-hart1.jpgProfessional wrestler Owen Hart tragically fell to his death while he was being lowered into the ring for a WWF show in Kansas City's Kemper Arena in 1999. Earlier this year the Kansas City Star ran a small item commenting on a "Haunted America" column that suggested Hart's ghost now haunts the arena.

The reports were somewhat vague, but employees claimed to have seen Hart walking the rafters while dressed in his Blue Blazer costume, the gimmick he was portraying when he died. The same witnesses claimed to have seen the cable that Hart used for his descent into the arena, and some claimed lights in the arena flickered during these sightings.

4. George Gipp

gipp-9.jpgThe Notre Dame football star who inspired Knute Rockne's famous "Win one for the Gipper" speech may still be lurking around campus. Gipp was the first Fighting Irish player to make the All America team, but his life was tragically cut short when he contracted pneumonia and died in 1920 at just 25 years old. Gipp allegedly caught the illness that ended his life while sleeping on Washington Hall's steps one evening; soon after his death, students started hearing strange noises throughout the building. Papers would rustle under doors late at night, and horns would mysteriously sound with no apparent source.

By 1925, there were reports of Gipp riding a white horse up the same steps, and Gipp's spectral legend started to grow. Others have claimed Gipp materializes on Washington Hall's dramatic stages and set rooms. If it's truly the ghost of Gipp stalking around the building, he has a fresh reason to be upset; last November his body was exhumed and stripped of a femur to settle a long-standing paternity suit.

5. Frontier Field

Frontier Field was built in Rochester in 1996. It's currently the home to the Rochester Red Wings of baseball's International League. It's also home to a whole slew of ghosts. According to a 2005 report aired by ESPN, construction of the stadium unearthed some human bones, and soon stadium workers suspected that the grounds might be haunted.

In 2004, these suspicious employees brought in a team of ghost experts from Rochester Paranormal to have a look at the stadium. The investigators claimed that they encountered a number of ghosts of people who had previously lived in the area, some of whom were ecstatic that their old haunts had been converted into something as much fun as a baseball stadium. Research director J. Burkhart also took several photographs during the investigation that showed floating heads, smoky entities, and other paranormal activity. Given their experiences at the stadium, Rochester Paranormal concluded that the stadium was definitely haunted, making Frontier Field the world's first "officially" haunted stadium.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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