The Real-Life Wizard Behind "Harry Potter"
The phenomenal success of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, and the film based on "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," is introducing a whole new generation of children (and their parents) to the world of magic, sorcery and alchemy.
What is not widely known, however, is that at least one of the characters - and his magical quest - referred to in "Harry Potter" is based on a real alchemist and his strange experiments.
According to the Harry Potter stories, Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, earned his reputation as a great wizard due, in part, to his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel. And although Dumbledore, Harry and all the other teachers and students at Hogwarts are fictional, Nicholas Flamel was a real-life alchemist who dabbled in some of the most mystical corners of the magical arts, including the quest for an Elixir of Life. Some wonder, in fact, if Flamel is still alive!
When "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was written, Flamel's age was pegged at 665 years. That would be just about right since the real Flamel was born in France around 1330. Through an astonishing series of events, he became one of the most famous alchemists of the 14th century. And his story is almost as fantastic and enchanting as Harry Potter's.
An Incredible Dream Comes True
As an adult, Nicholas Flamel worked as a bookseller in Paris. It was a humble trade, but one that provided him with the relatively rare abilities to read and write. He worked from a small stall near the Cathedral of Saint-Jacques la Boucherie where, with his assistants, he copied and "illuminated" (illustrated) books.
One night, Flamel had a strange and vivid dream in which an angel appeared to him. The radiant, winged creature presented to Flamel a beautiful book with pages that seemed to be of fine bark and a cover of worked copper. Flamel later wrote down what the angel spoke to him: "Look well at this book, Nicholas. At first you will understand nothing in it - neither you nor any other man. But one day you will see in it that which no other man will be able to see."
Just as Flamel was about to take the book from the angel's hands, he awoke from his dream. Soon after, however, the dream was to weave its way into reality. One day when Flamel was working alone in his shop, a stranger approached him who was desperate to sell an old book for some much-needed money. Flamel immediately recognized the strange, copper-bound book as the one offered by the angel in his dream. He eagerly bought it for the sum of two florins.
The copper cover was engraved with peculiar diagrams and words, only some of which Flamel recognized as Greek. The pages were like none he had ever encountered in his trade. Instead of parchment, they seemed to be made from the bark of sapling trees. Flamel was able to discern from the first pages of the book that it was written by someone who called himself Abraham the Jew - "a prince, priest, Levite, astrologer and philosopher."
The strong memory of his dream and his own intuition convinced Flamel that this was no ordinary book - that it contained arcane knowledge that he feared he might not be qualified to read and understand. It could contain, he felt, the very secrets of nature and life.
Flamel's trade had brought him familiarity with the writings of the alchemists of his day, and he knew something of transmutation (the changing of one thing into another, such as lead into gold) and knew well the many symbols that alchemists used. But the symbols and writing in this book were beyond Flamel's understanding, although he strove to solve its mysteries for over 21 years.
The Quest for Translation
Because the book had been written by a Jew and much of its text was in ancient Hebrew, he reasoned that a scholarly Jew might be able to help him translate the book. Unfortunately, religious persecution had recently driven all of the Jews out of France. After copying only a few pages of the book, Flamel packed them and embarked on a pilgrimage to Spain, where many of the exiled Jews had settled.
The journey was unsuccessful, however. Many of the Jews, understandably suspicious of Christians at this time, were reluctant to help Flamel, so he began his journey home. Flamel had all but given up his quest when he chanced upon an introduction to a very old, learned Jew by the name of Maestro Canches who lived in Leon. Canches, too, was not eager to help Flamel until he mentioned Abraham the Jew. Canches had certainly heard of this great sage who was wise in the teachings of the mysterious kabbalah.
Canches was able to translate the few pages that Flamel brought with him and wanted to return to Paris with him to examine the rest of the book. But Jews were still not allowed in Paris and Canches' extreme old age would have made the journey difficult anyway. As fate would have it, Canches died before he could help Flamel any further. - about.com
Night Time Tours of Alcatraz Offers Eerie Experience
When night fell on The Rock in San Francisco Bay visitors moved shadow-like through the former prison's lantern-lit hospital rooms, a gloaming against dingy walls with peeling blue paint.
A hard wind whooshed and rattled a window in the hospital cell where Robert Stroud, "The Birdman of Alcatraz," spent 11 of his 17 years when this was the dankest, hardest federal prison in the U.S.
Yet, most of the more than one million tourists who visit the famous former prison never get to experience Alcatraz Island at night or see its spooky, decrepit hospital -- experiences unique to the night tour. At dusk the island prison that housed some of the nation's most notorious criminals -- including Al Capone and the recently rearrested James "Whitey" Bulger, who was on The Rock for bank robbery from 1959-1963 -- is often enshrouded by fog, and the lamps on the grounds emit a ghostly glow.
The difference from the daytime tour is apparent from the start. The ferry from San Francisco motors slowly around the west side of the isle, passing decrepit buildings surrounded by Alcatraz new residents: black Brandt's cormorants, Western gulls and the other birds that have made their home there since U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy shuttered the prison in 1963.
"This is a little eerie," said Gerard Lang, 28, who was visiting from Covington, Kentucky. "You kind of feel like you're heading to prison yourself."
After leaving the boat visitors begin a winding ascent past the prison's official sign, where a faded "Indians Welcome" written in red paint is still visible, remnants of the Native American occupation of the island in from 1969 to 1971. The island became a national park in 1972.
"You're following in the footsteps of every federal prisoner who ever came here," said Eric Knackmuhs, a Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy guide.
Passing the guano and rust covered buildings that once housed the families of prison guards, the park's employees tell of a failed Friday the 13th 1939 escape attempt -- one of many escape attempts recited in gripping detail that are not included on the daytime tour.
Once inside the prison the audio tour features stories from ex-inmates and former prison guards in their own voices.
The tour leads visitors through D Block, or solitary confinement, where you can stand inside a dark cell and listen to the voices of inmates who spent time there. Close your eyes and you can sense the isolation, the desperation.
If you're lucky and find a guide who isn't too busy, you can also ask to take a quick detour into "The Dungeon," another of the usually off-limits areas of the prison that can be accessed at night.
The dungeon is left over from when Alcatraz was a military prison, and has a series of small alcoves where Civil War and World War I-era prisoners were held, said Jim Bradon, a guide. Shining a flashlight on the wall of one dark alcove, the prison inmate numbers of former dungeon denizens can be seen carved into the bricks.
As the sun sets and the lights inside the penitentiary dim, the employees open up the hospital at 8 p.m. Visitors walk through the dark rooms past old metal operating tables, the former X-ray room with windows painted black and the psych ward.
The hospital visit is unique to the night tour, and for lovers of prison's history it is a significant addition to Alcatraz' story.
"You ever see ghosts here?" a tourist asked an employee in the hospital's hallway, shadows dancing on the walls as tourists passed before lanterns.
After a brief pause, she said no.
On the ride back to shore, San Francisco's skyline glowed through the evening fog and many remarked on the unique evening spent on Alcatraz.
"At night it was kind of eerie with the fog and the lights. That was really cool," said Steven Winslade, 26, from London, England. - Foxnews
Deceased Celebrities Still Seen In Their Old Haunts
You’ve checked into the Beverly Hills Roosevelt hotel, donned your chicest outfit, and are ready to hit Tinseltown. On your way out, you stop to admire your fresh look in a lobby mirror when eerily, you see a ghostly figure next to your reflection — that of the world-famous blond, Marilyn Monroe.
Tales of haunted hotels abound, of course, especially in older establishments like the Roosevelt. Usually, the haunting spirit is that of a random person — someone who died there, perhaps, or someone who simply doesn’t want to check out. But some of these hotel spooks — like Sid Vicious, Anna Nicole Smith, and Marilyn (who’s specter has also been reported at Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva Resort) — became famous before their deaths. And conveniently, some of them inhabit easily booked hotels.
So who are these A-listers who have come back from the great beyond to haunt hotels? Elvis Presley, for one. People all over the world have laid claim to seeing the still-living King, of course, but his spirit is popular, too. It’s been spotted in his old performance space at the Las Vegas Hilton — just waiting, perhaps, to do one more show.
Another singer, Janis Joplin, has a different kind of connection to the hotel she’s said to haunt. It was in the Landmark Hotel (now the Highland Gardens Hotel) in Los Angeles that she died of an overdose in 1970.
Naturally, some hotels don’t like to discuss the celebrities — either living or dead — who stay with them. The Roosevelt maintains that their hotel isn’t haunted by anyone, celebrity or otherwise. And the Algonquin Hotel — where writer Dorothy Parker is said to lurk — says it has no documented occurrences of a haunting.
As with any unexplained phenomena, there are more rumors than documented cases. So perhaps these celebrity spirits don’t exist, and the sightings have proliferated because diehard fans don’t want to accept that their beloved star is gone. But maybe there’s some truth to them. After all, why would so many guests insist that what they saw was real?
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