Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Scent of Rotting Flesh at Phipps Conservatory

by Bratzilla

“What the hell is so scary about a place that puts on flower shows,” you ask? Well, you’d be fiendishly surprised. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens—a magnificent and looming Victorian glasshouse situated in historic Schenley Park—not only has a ghastly glow after dark and a living mass of tangled tree limbs that fight each other to reach the light, but somewhere beneath the palms and between the ferns, at least one ghost has to exist in its elysian gardens, too.

Founded by Henry Phipps—a quiet, quirky old benefactor who gifted the structure to the city in 1893—the Conservatory may appear to have a pretty benign past at first glance, but look a little deeper and a few dark historical points creep to the surface. One of these falls into the “scary by association” category: Shipped via box car to Pittsburgh, the first stocked plants came all the way from the Chicago World’s Fair—an exhibition infamously plagued by the serial murders of one H.H. Holmes. The other is the suicide of George W. Burke, the superintendent of the Bureau of Parks who died in the original entrance in 1926 after suffering a nervous breakdown. While there have been no official reports of a haunting, it doesn’t mean that he, or anyone else for that matter, doesn’t still roam the grounds.

Beyond these spooky tidbits, Phipps—which interestingly enough used to be the venue for Fright Nights from 1986 to 1990—also happens to be in possession of the rare Corpse Flower (or Amorphophallus titanium, if you prefer), a native of the equatorial rainforests of Sumatra that smells like rotting flesh when it blooms. It hasn’t flowered yet, but when it does you better believe we’re going to be there. In the meantime, while they don’t hold a candle to Morticia Addams’ ravenous African strangler, you might also wish to visit the patch of carnivorous plants in the Discovery Garden, or the gothic After Dark ‘Black Pearl’ Orchid that was recently acquired by the Conservatory and put on display.

But seriously—whether there are apparitions and stinky, murderous flowers or not—Phipps is a remarkable place and always worth a visit no matter what kind of weird interests you have. Nature is a universal dead spirit lifter and we are lucky to have it preserved more prettily than a pickled brain here in our great city. For tour times, admission prices, upcoming events (including the Fall Flower Show on display Oct.13 – Nov. 6), please visit their website … and be sure to let us know if you see any ghosts.

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