A wildly unlikely ghost tale attempts to explain the odd name of a local park.
A hill overlooking Prague’s largest cemetery, Olšanské hřbitovy, has an undeservedly shady reputation but is now home to a pleasant park. A rather obscure tale describes how Parukářka, meaning “wig maker”, got its name. The explanation about a bald ghost is bit far-fetched, though fun nonetheless.
The hill is in Prague’s trendy Žižkov district, but long ago it was a separate town outside the city walls.
Parukářka sits on top of Holy Cross Hill — vrch Svaty Kříže — and many people will tell you that is where a cross stood next to a gallows, where among other people Hussite leader Jan Roháč z Dubé met his end. Actually that happened some distance away on another hill, according to modern historians.
The tall tale of how the hill came to be called Parukářka says that a young man who lived in the then rather rural area was a worrywart. Little by little he tore out his hair, strand by strand, until none was left save for some unsightly stringy locks. Then he worried about not having hair and began to behave rather strangely in public as a result. He is remembered only by the name Honza Holohlavý, which means “John Bald”, so likely it is not his real name.
Women refused to dance with him, gentlemen avoided him in the pubs and the children taunted him over his scraggly appearance.
Finally he saved up a little money, and he decided to cover the source of his shame with a fine wig. He purchased the handsomest hair prosthetic he could find in Žižkov. It had fine blond hair with a slight natural wave and tips cut to fashionable points.
The first day he wore it, Honza put on his least-ragged clothes and went for a walk on Holy Cross Hill to show off his new look. A sudden wind though emerged out of nowhere and blew the wig straight off and into the trees. He stood there not only bald, but with a head covered in glue and tape. The people on the hill couldn’t stop laughing.
Honza Holohlavý searched and searched, endlessly asking people if they saw his wig. He became so obsessed that he went mad. Forgetting to eat, he soon wasted away and died. But he still has not given up the search. His thin and ragged ghost with a tape-covered head still wanders the hill, asking all those who don’t run in fright whether they have seen his wig.
The ghost can be freed from his torment if the wig is returned, but nobody seems to have it. Perhaps he can be convinced that bald is beautiful.
Aside from this ghost tale, the hill has become a recent point of interest for those interested in the occult and esoteric. The peak is marked with a shrine made of a wooden portal with a vaguely Japanese look and stools with large carved bearded faces, like fairytale characters. The stools have become cracked and weather-beaten, making them seem ancient.
On the other side of the path from the shrine is a modern 30-centimeter wide and 150-centimeter-tall menhir, or standing stone, made of marble. A mystical symbol with a seven-pointed star and a swirl is on its front. The esoteric theory behind the stone is called lithopuncture and is meant to create energy to heal the earth. A more authentic menhir can be found in the north of Prague.
The menhir was designed by Slovenian sculptor Marek Pogačnik, who is the main proponent of lithopuncture. He has installed many such stones around the world. The non-profit organization Cultura Informa Bohemia sponsored its installation in the park.
“Lithopuncture is similar to acupuncture of the human body. Like the human body, the Earth is also a living organism with energy centres and interconnecting veins of energy – which one can understand as acupuncture meridians. By ‘touching’ permanently the acupuncture points of a landscape through stone pillars, it is possible to get some positive and healing effects within the respective environment,” Pogačnik said on his website.
Ghost stories and similar tales are often back constructions to explain a place’s name, if the original meaning has been lost in time. But for Parukářka the source of the name is well-known, and that makes the ghost story a bit redundant.
Parukářka refers to wig maker Jan Hrabánek, who had a homestead and wig factory there starting in 1804. The homestead, located at Pod Parukářkou 4, still exists but has lost much of its original charm due to careless renovations.
The earliest mentions of the hill are as a vineyard called Hejtmánka established in the time of Emperor Charles IV.
The cross that gave the hill its name is first mentioned in 1822 as the dominant visual feature of the area. When it vanished is unknown.
The Sellier & Bellot ammunition factory and testing area was on part of the hill from 1826 through the first third of the 1900s. Some walls of the test site are incorporated into the sides of the park’s paths. The company name can be seen in large concrete letters above a residential building just outside the park on Jeseniova Street. A nearby chimney was part of the factory. An explosion in 1872 killed 14 people at the site.
Sellier & Bellot is still in operation making ammunition, but in 1935 it moved to Vlašim, Central Bohemia, as it no longer made sense to have such a potentially dangerous factory in the city.
In the Cold War, an anti-nuclear shelter for 5,000 people was built in 1950–55. People who have explored it say there are kilometers of tunnels, short-wave radio posts and tracks for a military supply railway. It could produce its own water, and electricity. After 1989, the complex held a rock music radio station and later a nightclub and recording studio. Part is still considered operational and could house up to 2,500 people in an emergency.
The shelter entrances are covered in ever-changing graffiti. The concrete air vents are visible throughout the park, and people use them for seating.
Czech author Karel Čapek, who lived nearby, wrote a poetic description of the hill in 1925, though truth be told he was not a fan. The park seems to have improved greatly in the past century.
Čapek, with the help of his brother, Josef, coined the word “robot” in the 1921 play Rossum’s Universal Robots.
Karel lamented the absence of the cross on Holy Cross Hill in 1925. He went on to list the hill’s faults. “There is only poor grass, hollowed and eaten slopes and especially the Žižkov people. It’s a naked, sad, and steep graveyard, a bit of a quarry, a bit of a playground, and something else in the late hours,” he said, adding a description of the view of the cemetery across the street.
The park, in the 95 years since Čapek was there, has become a family-friendly place with three modernized playgrounds, one of which has the city’s longest slide. There is also a pub with seating on park benches and a spectacular view of the city highlighted by the Žižkov TV Tower.
If you stand at the top of the hill, the sun sets near the Žižkov TV Tower throughout November and December, making for exceptional photos. Prague Castle and the National Memorial at Vítkov, with its large statue of Jan Žižka, can also be seen from some angles. It is also a good place to fly kites in the spring and autumn.
Main image: Shrine on top of Parukářka.